Gilroy v Flynn

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeMr. Justice Hardiman
Judgment Date03 December 2005
Neutral Citation[2004] IESC 98
Docket Number28/03
Date03 December 2005

THE SUPREME COURT

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Fennelly J.

28/03

Between:
MARK JOHN GILROY
Plaintiff/Appellant
and
MARY FLYNN
Defendant/Respondent
Abstract:

Practice and procedure - Pleadings - Personal injuries - Motion to dismiss for want of prosecution - Balance of justice - Rules of the Superior Court, 1986 Order 27

The High Court dismissed an appeal from the Master's Court striking out the plaintiff's claim for want of jurisdiction. The case was a personal injury case where the statement of claim had not been delivered in over four years since the date of the accident. The plaintiff appealed.

Held by the Supreme Court (Hardiman J; Denham and Fennelly JJ concurring): in allowing the appeal and extending the time for filing by one week, that in the circumstances of the case, which was a matter of assessment only in which the appellant himself was blameless for the delay, that the balance of justice favoured the matter being permitted to proceed.

Reporter: F.McE.

1

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Hardiman delivered the 3rd day of December, 2004.

2

This is the plaintiff's appeal against the order of the High Court (Johnson J.), perfected on the 20th January, 2003 whereby the learned trial judge dismissed the plaintiff's appeal from the order of the Master of the 29th June, 2002 striking out the plaintiff's claim for want of prosecution.

3

This is a personal injuries action. The accident giving rise to the litigation happened on the 15th September, 1997. Despite this, no statement of claim has yet been delivered, although the plaintiff says that one has existed in draft form since November, 2002. Even that, however, is more than five years after the accident.

4

The chronology of the case tells its own unfortunate tale of a certain manner of prosecuting personal injuries actions in particular which, as Mr. Gerard Clarke S.C. counsel for the plaintiff correctly contended, was not uncommon.

5

The plaintiff issued his proceedings on the 18th August, 2000 about two years and eleven months after the accident. He did not however then proceed to serve the defendant but wrote to a firm who he thought to be the defendant's insurers giving them, for the first time, an intimation of his claim. He served the proceedings on the 30th January, 2001. A statement of claim was sought by the defendant by her solicitor's letter dated the 6th February, 2001. This request was repeated on the 8th February, 2001 and the 28th August, 2001. The latter letter warned of an intention to bring a motion against the plaintiff. On the 30th October, 2001 the plaintiff's solicitors broke his silence by stating that they were awaiting an MRI scan. On the 30th November, 2001 the Master of the High Court extended the time for delivery of a statement of claim by three weeks. This was done on consent, without any suggestion on the part of the plaintiff that the time was inadequate. The correspondence then goes into what one might call its second phase.

6

On the 11th December, 2001 the defendant again demanded delivery of a statement of claim. On the 17th January, 2002 the plaintiff's solicitor said that he was awaiting "an addendum" to his medical adviser's report. On the following day the defendant's solicitor urged him to file his statement of claim and "make any necessary amendments that arise when up-to-date medicals come to hand". He said he was insisting on delivery of the statement of claim within seven days. By a further letter of the 28th January, 2002 the defendant's solicitor threatened a further motion. On the 11th February, 2002 the plaintiff's solicitor assured him that "you will get a statement of claim from us shortly".

7

By letter of the 12th February the defendant again demanded a statement of claim and threatened a motion. On the 29th April he wrote again pointing that he had no response to the previous letter and that he was now issuing a further motion. On the 27th June the Master of the High Court dismissed the plaintiff's claim for want of prosecution with costs to the defendant.

8

The plaintiff appealed this order to the High Court and it was affirmed on the 13th January, 2003. The plaintiff appealed again to this Court. In October, 2003 the Books of Appeal appear to have been outstanding because the defendant put the plaintiff on notice that he would bring a motion to dismiss his appeal for want of prosecution unless the plaintiff "made efforts" to have the appeal dealt with. The appeal was subsequently certified and listed for hearing on the 29th October, 2004.

9

It is fair to say that the plaintiff has been dilatory in a high degree. Indeed, it was not contested that he had been guilty of inordinate delay and it was not seriously contested that the delay was inexcusable. It was however urged that the delay was not gross by the standards of actual practice in these matters and that, in any event, the interests of justice required that the matter proceed. Mr. Clarke S.C. also relied heavily on an assertion that the case will proceed on an assessment only basis: he derived this information from the fact that the owner of the vehicle had already been paid his damages by or on behalf of the defendant. Mr. Clarke's assertions in this regard were not contradicted.

10

Mr. Clarke relied principally on the judgment of the High Court in Rainsford v. Limerick Corporation [1995] 2 ILRM 561. In particular it was submitted, on the authority of this case, that even assuming or conceding the plaintiff's delay to be both inordinate and inexcusable, the Court must still proceed to exercise a discretion as to whether, on the facts, the "balance of justice" is in favour, or against, the continuance of the case. In this regard, the gravity of the claim and the consequence of dismissal for the claimant is a material consideration. Also relevant, according, to the judgment of Finlay P. (as he then was) is the extent of the litigant's personal, as opposed to vicarious, blameworthiness for the delay.

11

Finlay P. eventually exercised his discretion in favour of the plaintiff in Rainsford on the basis that "the balance of justice is in favour of permitting this action to proceed and that the chances of a major injustice being done to the plaintiff were the action now to be dismissed is significantly greater than the chance that a major injustice would be done to the defendants by allowing to proceed".

12

Decision.

13

It is important to make the point that there have been significant developments in this area since the decision of the High Court in Rainsford or in Primor Plc v. Stokes Kennedy Crowley [1996] 2 IR 459. By statutory instrument 63 of 2004, Order 27 of the Rules of the Superior Courts has been significantly amended in particular by the following provision:

14

(1) If the plaintiff, being bound to deliver a statement of claim, does not deliver the same within the time allowed for that purpose, the defendant may, subject to the provision of rule 1A, at the expiration of that time apply to the Court to dismiss the action, with costs, for want of prosecution; and on the hearing of the first such application, the Court may order the action to be dismissed accordingly, or may make such other order on such terms as the Court shall think just; and on the hearing of any subsequent application, the Court shall order the action to be dismissed as aforesaid, unless the Court is satisfied that special circumstances (to be recited in the order) exist which explain and justify

15

the failure...".

16

Secondly, the Courts have become ever more conscious of the unfairness and increased possibility of injustice which attach to allowing an action which depends on witness testimony to proceed a considerable time after the cause of action accrued. Thirdly, following such cases as McMullen v. Ireland [ECHR 422 97/98. 29 July, 2004] and the European...

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