The Injuries Board (or the PIAB as it was known then) came into existence just over ten years which was when I finished my apprenticeship and qualified as a solicitor.
Around that time there was a perception that the so-called ‘compensation culture’ had spun out of control and that claims fraud had reached epidemic levels. It would probably be disingenuous to suggest that this fear was completely groundless, but suffice it to say that the insurance industry didn’t pass up the wonderful opportunity that this sentiment presented.
Intensive lobbying resulted in a serious erosion of accident victims’ rights. Apart from having the entitlement to have the reasonable costs of legal representation stripped from them, claimants also saw the already very tight three-year limitation period pared back to two years, together with the introduction of new swingeing penalties such as having one’s right to be compensated completely dismissed if there was any suspicion of exaggeration.
Coupled with these anti-claimant reforms, huge resources were pumped into funding a highly effective propaganda campaign which has had the effect of reinforcing the impression that there’s something vaguely ‘dodgy’ about seeking compensation for personal injuries in any circumstances, irrespective of how completely blameless the injured person is or how seriously they’ve been maimed by the negligence of others.
Anyone in legal practice at time will remember the hullabaloo that the profession made when the PIAB was being introduced. I think that it’s fair to say that the general public saw the hue and cry made by lawyers around that time as being motivated largely (if not entirely) by self interest and, to be honest, it would be hard to argue against that claim.
Any fair assessment of the situation would have to admit that the Injuries Board has done away with certain practices which enriched the legal profession contrary to the common good. Only a fool would try to justify the amount of legal fees that were routinely being paid out for relatively minor injuries where liability wasn’t in issue.
But be that as it may, ten years down the road I believe that we now find ourselves with a system which is fundamentally unfair to blameless accident victims and that’s one of the main reasons that I decided to write Make Your Claim: A Consumer’s Guide to the Injuries Board.
Accident victims’ rights are a lot like the protections put in place in the criminal legal system – you only miss them and appreciate how important they are in your own hour of need. Just as it can be very unpopular to argue for safeguards that might result in guilty criminals walking free, advocating for the right to adequate compensation for personal injuries victims can also feel like a very lonely task.
When you’re in this field of practice you regularly see people who once ranted about ‘ambulance chasing’ and ‘compo culture’ undergoing a Pauline conversion as soon as they themselves or a close friend or relative has been seriously injured by someone else’s wrongdoing.
I’m confident that any objective and fair-minded person who reads this book will agree, at least to some extent, that there are features of the Injuries Board which give rise to systemic unfairness to claimants.
I’m also hopeful that some of the issues that I’ve raised might contribute to a debate on how we can introduce reforms to make the Injuries Board process fairer for claimants and for society at large.
*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.