Irish lawyers warn against blaming damages for high premiums as Northern Ireland hikes payouts
Irish lawyers have warned against blaming damages awards for high insurance premiums as newly-revised personal injury guidelines have hiked payouts in Northern Ireland by up to 20 per cent.
Barrister Tim O’Connor told Irish Legal News that the increases in the latest edition of the Green Book, effectively the Northern Ireland equivalent of the south’s Book of Quantum, hold significance for both jurisdictions.
Insurance companies in Ireland often blame the high cost of insurance premiums in Ireland on its higher damages awards compared to other jurisdictions.
However, the latest Northern Ireland personal injury guidelines provide for an increase in the figures for most injuries by around 20 per cent.
Mr O’Connor said: “Much play is made by insurers of comparison with UK jurisdictions, even though Mr Justice Kearns noted he felt England and Wales awards were ‘mean’ and that England and Wales awards were ‘not necessarily correct’.
“If damages now go up in the closest jurisdiction – geographically, demographically and legally – that suggests the differential is closing, and closing by Northern Ireland coming closer to Ireland.
“When this happens at the same time as profits, dividends and premiums go up while net claim costs go down to the extent unused reserves are released as profits, it suggests the narrative of blaming lawyers and the Courts for supposedly soft and out-of-touch damages here won’t stand scrutiny.
“The answers the public deserve as to why premiums are going up when net claim costs are going down must then lie elsewhere, and should be sought.”
Meanwhile, Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society of Ireland, said it was “astonishing” that a major insurer, FBD Holdings, had just announced profits of €50 million for 2018.
Mr Murphy said: “FBD said yesterday it planned to more than double its dividend to its shareholders releasing tens of millions in unused claims reserves. Yet at the same time, the insurance industry is calling for injury victims claims to be reduced.
“Insurance companies are making enormous profits while Irish businesses, by FBD’s own admission, are struggling to pay the huge premiums insurance companies are setting and in some cases cannot get insured at all. How can this be the case? FBD, and the insurance industry as a whole, have a lot of questions to answer.”
He added: “The Law Society has continuously warned that simply reducing the compensation awards paid to victims of injury will only serve to boost the earnings of already hugely profitable insurance companies. I think today’s results and comments from FBD are clear evidence of that fact.
“The bottom line is that there is absolutely no evidence that reducing damages will result in lower premiums. The effect of reducing damages will merely be to take from the pockets of injured victims of negligence in order to line the pockets of an increasingly profitable insurance industry.”