IRL High Court Assessment of Damages- Significant Injury- Psychiatric Injury- change in personality and its effect on earning capacity- Application of Reddy v Bates- Consideration of Cap on General Damages

In the case of Fagan v Griffen, the court had to assess damages where the Plaintiff had suffered significant injury.

The Plaintiff is 32 years of age. He is an engineer with a Degree from Trinity College, Dublin. He had no memory of the incident, and had suffered from amnesia for a number of weeks.

He sustained a serious head injury, fracture of the sternum, minor lung contusion and abdominal injuries. He underwent a number of operations whilst hospitalised. He had been left with some scarring although the scarring formed very little as regards the case. He had suffered from double vision which had persisted for some time and was suggestive of a significant closed head injury which led to fourth cranial nerve palsy on the right hand side which had improved. He was left with a clicking sensation in his ankle and had some difficulty with his gait. He had suffered some soft tissue injury to his back, had lost a front tooth which was repaired and a noted diminution in the senses of taste and smell.

Although his physical injury was significant, it was agreed that the Plaintiff had made a remarkable recovery.

The main area of contention in the case was the issue of the Plaintiff’s psychiatric injury and whether his personality had been changed as a result of the incident.

Having heard substantial evidence, the court found that the Plaintiff’s personality had indeed changed, and notwithstanding the fact he had largely physically recovered, the change in his personality had greatly impinged his employment prospects. Mr Justice Cross awarded a sum of €532,160.00 for future loss of earnings allowing a 10% reduction for Reddy v Bates.

The total special damages claim (of which future care costs were set at €300,000.00) came to €1,139,380.90.

When assessing general damages, the court noted that the purpose of damages in tort is insofar as money can do, to put the Plaintiff into the same position had the incident not occurred.

The court recognised that on any view of the matter, although the Plaintiff’s physical injuries had largely settled, they were significant indeed. The court acknowledged that the Supreme Court in Sinott v Quinnsworth had indicated that a cap should be placed on general damages in circumstances in which the Plaintiff has been awarded substantial sums in past and future expenses.

The court noted the Decision of Quirke J in Maggie Yang Yun v Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (2009) IEHC 318 which found the appropriate present cap on general damages was €450,000.00.

The court however also acknowledged that it is important to note that what was decided in Sinott v Quinnsworth was that there was a cap on general damages, not that general damages in case that failed to reach the standards of being the most extreme should suffer a pro rata diminution. Quirke J acknowledged therefore that although there is a cap on general damages, many cases may be entitled to a figure up to the level of that cap.

In this case however Mr Justice Cross acknowledged that while in many ways these were catastrophic injuries, they did not represent such an insult to the Plaintiff that they could be categorised as being in the most extreme grouping.

Interestingly, he noted “while I am obliged to have regard to the Book of Quantum, I find that nothing in this book is of great assistance to me”. He assessed general damages in the sum of €150,000.00 for pain and suffering to date and €100,000.00 for pain and suffering into the future, being a total of €250,000.00.

The total award was for €1,389,308.90.

The full Judgement can be found here:

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