Personal injury litigation in Ireland has been transformed by the Civil Liability and Courts Act, 2004 ("2004 Act"). Much of the motivation behind the coming into force of the 2004 Act, was to tackle insurance costs, which was blamed on high legal costs in personal injury actions, and insurance fraud.
There is some overlap between the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 ("PIAB" Act") and the 2004 Act, in particular relating to the initial stages of personal injury litigation which has important implications for Plaintiffs who are considering bringing an action for personal injury. Indeed, the 2004 Act places onerous obligations on Plaintiffs, their solicitors and their barristers who prosecute damages claims for personal injuries.
The following is a summary of some of the main procedural changes insofar as they relate to the conduct of personal injuries litigation, which have been introduced by the 2004 Act.
The Statute of Limitations
The Act reduces the period within which a claim for damages in a personal injuries case can be made by amending the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991. The period has now been reduced from three years to two years from "the relevant date". The relevant date is the date of the cause of action, or the date of knowledge of the cause of action, whichever occurs later. This amendment to the Statute of Limitations Act 1991 came into effect on the 31st March 2005.1
The Act provides that where the relevant date, in respect of a cause of action, falls before the commencement of Section 7 of the 2004 Act, i.e. the 31st March 2005, an action shall not be brought after the expiration of:-
two years from the said commencement or;
three years from the relevant date, whichever occurs first.
Whilst the 2004 Act amends the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991, there is no reference in the 2004 Act to any amendment of the limitation periods for personal injury actions whilst embarking or disembarking an aircraft, which is governed by the Warsaw Convention, 1929 or for personal injury actions whilst on board a vessel, which is governed by Section 46 (2) of the Civil Liability Act, 1961, both of which remain two years from the date of the cause of action.
The Letter of Claim
The Act attempts to "front load" litigation, requiring parties to assess the cases from the outset. A Plaintiff must now serve a Letter of Claim on the wrongdoer setting out the nature of the wrong alleged to have been committed.2 The Letter of Claim must be sent before any application is made to PIAB and indeed PIAB requires that a copy of this letter is submitted to it when making...