Blog: Dáil committee has been misled by State Claims Agency

Karen Kearney
Karen Kearney

Karen Kearney, partner at Cantillons Solicitors, responds to reports that the State Claims Agency has blamed personal injury practitioners for bringing high-profile cases to the Irish courts.

It is a matter of regret that the Dáil Public Accounts Committee appears to have been misled by the State Claims Agency’s submission to that committee.

It appears that the SCA have claimed that lawyers acting for families who suffered catastrophic injuries are to blame for forcing these high profile cases into court. The allegation being made is that such lawyers are looking for too much money on behalf of their clients.

There is no doubt that a negotiating stance may be adopted in which a sum significantly more than the value of the case will be sought. That often however, occurs in the face of an unrealistic offer on the part of the defendant. This is a misleading sideshow. If there are unrealistic demands, it is not as if the State are without their remedies for such an unrealistic stance being adopted (if it is) by a plaintiff lawyer.

The State can:

  1. Offer what they consider the correct value of the case. If it is the value, no self-respecting lawyer would reject it, or put it before the court, for approval;
  2. They can lodge money in court and put it up to the plaintiff, who would be on the hazard in relation to their costs, if they proceeded in a face of an unreasonable offer. They can tender or make a calderbank offer.

The real complaint that is made by the families of these catastrophically injured plaintiffs is:

  1. The delay in admitting liability;
  2. The delay in compromise.

The State Claims Agency might be asked to provide data as to the dates that they admitted liability in any given case that has been settled. It will be clearly seen that there are many years between the date of a catastrophic event and the date of admission of liability. That admission of liability often comes on the day of a trial or in the days leading up to a trial. It is left until the last moment.

If there are unrealistic negotiations, they are taking place against the background and that background is really the cause of complaint and that needs to be the focus of any investigation.

Allegations of unrealistic negotiations are a smokescreen designed to deflect attention away from the manner in which the State Claims Agency are dealing with these cases. They are dealing with them in a way which results in the families in these catastrophically injured cases being left on tenterhooks, wondering whether their case is going to be fought or not. They discover on the eve of trial that a light has been shone into the State Claims Agency and they suddenly realise they have got to admit liability. This is not an accident. It is really an attempt at adopting an attritional approach to the litigation: Wear the plaintiff down and try and get them into a more realistic (from the State Claims Agency’s point of view) negotiating stance. This is grossly unfair. It is a pity the Dáil Committee has been misled in the manner in which it has.

  • Karen Kearney is a partner at Cantillons Solicitors in Cork. View her profile here.