Woman not entitled to have her injury assessed under earlier guidelines, court rules in majority

The Supreme Court has ruled, by a majority of five to two in a landmark challenge, that judge-approved guidelines slashing awards for mainly minor personal injuries have legal effect and are legally binding.
That means the guidelines can only be departed from where there is no reasonable proportion between the guidelines and the damages award that should be made, the court said.
A majority of the court, four to three, ruled on Tuesday that section 7.2.g of the Judicial Council Act 2019 giving power to the Judicial Council to make guidelines in its present form is unconstitutional on the basis it infringes judicial independence.
However, six of the seven judges held the guidelines were subsequently independently ratified by the Oireachtas, and given legal effect, by the provisions of another Act which came into force in April 2021.
A majority of four also rejected Bridget Delaney’s claim she had vested property or personal rights to have her application for damages assessed by either the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or a court under any earlier personal injuries guidelines
The court has also indicated, given its findings and the importance of the case, it is prepared to grant Ms Delaney her full legal costs in the High Court and Supreme Court.
The outcome of the appeal has significant implications for the future assessment of damages for personal injuries.
The majority court who decided the guidelines have legal effect were Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Mr Justice Brian Murray, Mr Justice Maurice Collins, Ms Justice Mary Faherty and Mr Justice Robert Haughton. Mr Justice Gerard Hogan and Ms Justice Máire Whelan dissented.
From Co Waterford, Ms Delaney initiated her challenge after damages for an ankle injury suffered by her were assessed at €3,000 under the guidelines when, she contends, it was worth up to €34,000 under earlier guidelines.
In a personal injuries action against Waterford City and County Council, Ms Delaney claimed, due to the council’s negligence, she fractured her ankle bone after tripping and falling on a public footpath in Dungarvan on April 12th 2019. She required medical treatment and physiotherapy, and used a walker boot for several weeks.
After she submitted an application to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) in June 2019, it used the guidelines, which came into operation in April 2021, to assess her claim in May 2021 at €3,000.
In her High Court proceedings, Ms Delaney argued her claim should have been assessed under the guidelines’ predecessor, the book of quantum, at between €18,000 and €34,000.
She claimed the PIAB acted outside its powers and breached her rights in assessing her claim under the guidelines and the Judicial Council acted outside of its powers in adopting the guidelines.
After the High Court rejected her case, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a leapfrog appeal – one directly to that court from the High Court – due to the importance of the issues raised.
Because some Supreme Court judges hold positions with the Judicial Council, the appeal was heard by a court comprising four Supreme Court and three Court of Appeal judges.
The court reserved judgment in March 2023 but, in an unexpected development, asked the parties last month for written submissions on a specific legal issue relating to the impact, if any, of legislation enacted by the Oireachtas after the guidelines were approved by a majority of the judiciary in March 2021. The legislation provided for amendments to the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 to make further provision in relation to the operation of the guidelines.

Article by Mary Carolan The Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times