Court of Appeal reduces damages for taxi accident by €75,000

The Court of Appeal has overruled an award of damages made by the High Court, in respect of personal injuries suffered by a woman during a taxi ride in 2007, finding that the award in relation to pain and suffering was disproportionate.

The defendants had appealed against the judgment and order of the High Court, awarding the plaintiff Grace Cronin a total of €200,000 plus the costs of the proceedings, including €100,000 for pain and suffering to date, €80,000 for pain and suffering into the future, and an agreed sum of €20,000 for special damages.

The case arose from an incident in which the plaintiff got into a taxi owned and driven by the second named defendant, and fastened her seatbelt. When the taxi was in the vicinity of the junction of Harold’s Cross Road and Shamrock Villas, Harold’s Cross, another vehicle, which was owned and driven by the first named defendant, came across the road and collided head on with the taxi in which the plaintiff was travelling.

The plaintiff suffered personal injuries, loss and damage in the accident, and issued proceedings against both defendants. Liability was conceded on behalf of the defendants and the case proceeded as an assessment of damages.

The trial judge found that prior to the accident the plaintiff, who was a chemical engineer, was a very sporty individual who liked jogging and physical exercise, and who moved out and about socialising, enjoying meals and the like as any young person of her age, and with a reasonable job at the time, would have done.

The judge was satisfied that the collision had been a particularly violent one. He accepted that she has suffered soft tissue injury which resulted in physiotherapy, injections, and other medication.

He noted that the plaintiff was likely to require treatment for many years and gave the award noted above.

Citing Rossiter v Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council 3 IR 578, the defendants contended that the award was excessive and disproportionate to the actual injuries sustained.

It was contended that following the Rossiter case “he test is whether there is any reasonable proportion between the actual award of damages and what the Court, sitting on appeal, would be inclined to give. The case law indicates that the Court will not disturb an award unless there is a disparity of at least 25% …”

The defendants pointed out that it was agreed by all doctors involved that the plaintiff suffered no structural damage. It was submitted that the trial judge assessed general damages at a rate which suggested that the plaintiff had significant ongoing complaints or some permanent serious condition in her neck and/or back, neither of which was justified having regard to the evidence adduced.

It was submitted that the trial judge, by reference to the 2004 Book of Quantum guidelines, should have awarded damages within the “significant ongoing” range, at most.

It was further contended that to the extent that it might be argued that the guideline figures in the Book of Quantum require adjustment, any increase having regard to the current economic climate and the absence of inflation, should be modest.

The plaintiff also cited Rossiter v Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council 3 IR 578. It was submitted, however, that the appellate court “should only interfere when it considers that there is an error in the award of damages which is so serious as to amount to an error of law. The test of proportionality seems to me to be the appropriate one.”

The plaintiff submitted that the injuries were long standing and serious, and that the Book of Quantum did not deal with her particular injuries.

It was submitted that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff had had a major effect upon life up to the trial, that they continued to have a major effect upon her life, and that they would continue to do so for at least a further 10 years. It was submitted that the award of the trial judge was not erroneous. The award of General Damages was both reasonable and proportionate.

The Court cited Nolan v.Wirenski IECA 56, which stated that an appellate court could overturn an award of damages if it was found to be disproportionate, but that “an appellate court must be cautious and avoid second guessing a trial judge’s determination.”

The case of Nolan identified the correct approach in assessing damages as being that: “rinciple and authority require that awards of damages should he (i) fair to the plaintiff and the defendant; (ii) objectively reasonable in light of the common good and social conditions in the State; and (iii) proportionate within the scheme of awards for personal injuries generally. This usually means locating the seriousness of the case at an appropriate point somewhere on a scale which includes everything from the most minor to the most serious injuries.”

The Court found that there was no reason to doubt that the plaintiff was credible, that it had to be accepted that she had ongoing symptoms, and that she required ongoing treatment.

It was noted that the injuries were not catastrophic, and that the prognosis was that she would eventually recover over time.

The Court identified as significant the fact that the plaintiff was able to carry on with her work, and that she had resilience and fortitude which assisted her in adapting to the impact of the injuries on her life.

It was found that the defendants were right to point to the Book of Quantum, noting that “The Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 requires a judge in a personal injuries case to have regard to the Book of Quantum, although he may also have regard to other factors. While the Book of Quantum requires updating, it is not so out of date as to be of no relevance.”

It was clear from the indicative figures provided by the Book of Quantum that the trial judge’s award of €180,000 in respect of pain and suffering (€100,000 to date and €80,000 into the future) was difficult to justify.

The Court therefore considered that his award was disproportionate to the injuries suffered and excessive to the point that in line with the principles articulated by the Supreme Court in Rossitter, it should be set aside.

The judge therefore concluded that: “Taking full account of the findings of the High Court as to the credibility of the plaintiff, in my judgment a reasonable and proper award in this case would be €75,000 for pain and suffering to date and €30,000 for pain and suffering into the future, giving a total award for general damages of €105,000. To this must be added the agreed special damages of €20,000, amounting to a total overall award of €125,000. I would therefore set aside the order of the High Court and replace it with an award of €125,000.”

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News