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The Court of Appeal calls for predictability in the assessment of personal injury damages

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Ireland

The recent case of Emma McKeown v Alan Crosby and Mary Vocella[1] reiterates the importance of predictability and transparency when assessing damages in personal injury claims.   

High Court
The case itself centred on an unexceptional road traffic accident in March 2017. The Plaintiff was driving her car when she was struck by an overtaking car on the Newry Road in Dundalk. She suffered injuries to her back, neck and arm. Liability was not an issue and the case came before the High Court for assessment of damages.

The High Court awarded Ms McKeown €70,000 for general damages and €6,000 for special damages. That decision was appealed by the Defendants on the basis that the award was excessive.

Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal consisted of three judges, all of whom were in agreement that the assessment of damages should take into consideration the kind of societal factors referred to in Sinnott v Quinnsworth[2] as being "the general level of incomes and to the things upon which the plaintiff might reasonably be expected to spend money”.

Mr Justice Noonan referred to the case of M.N v S.M [3] saying that there should be a “rational relationship” between awards and personal injuries cases. He stated that there must be fairness to both the plaintiff and to the defendant and that there should be proportionality to the general scheme of damages awarded by a court.  

Book of Quantum
Mr Justice Noonan noted that the courts are required to have regard to the Book of Quantum, particularly in cases where the injuries were easily categorised.  

He went on to state that the “successful operation of any personal injuries litigation system is highly dependent on predictability. The Book of Quantum seeks to introduce a measure of predictability, at least where it can be said that the injury in question is capable of categorisation and is one that has affected the plaintiff in a way that it might be expected to affect most people”. 

Mr Justice Noonan stated that personal injury litigation should be consistent and predictable and he suggested that the best way to achieve that predictability was by using the Book of Quantum where possible. He also highlighted the importance of trial judges setting out their rationale for arriving at any particular award.

Relying on the Book of Quantum, the Court considered that an award of €35,000 was more appropriate in the circumstances.

Conclusion  
While much of the commentary on this case has focussed on the reduction of the High Court award, in our view the value of this Court of Appeal decision is that it reiterates the requirement for trial judges to have regard to the Book of Quantum, to set out the rationale for their awards and in doing so, to contribute to predictability in the assessment of damages in personal injury claims.

Written by Killian O'Reilly

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[1] Emma McKeown v Alan Crosby and Mary Vocella  [2020] IECA 242
[2] Sinnott v Quinnsworth [1984] ILRM 523, 
[3] M.N. v S.M [2005] 4 IR 461 

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