A recent decision of the High Court is a discouraging and disappointing one for those defending personal injuries claims. The plaintiff was involved in a minor car accident in October 2012 where the speed of impact was 5mph, resulting in little or no damage to either car. Despite this the plaintiff alleged that, as a result of injuries to her lower back, she had to give up work and was predominantly house bound. Her husband also gave up his employment and was essentially her carer. Video footage from a private investigator hired by the defendant showed the plaintiff walking in and out of her house without much difficulty, hanging out clothes on the washing line and carrying a laptop on one occasion.
The judge accepted that there were inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s presentation and that her pain complaints did not correspond with any known neurological or orthopaedic pattern. However, he accepted the description of "catastrophisation" offered in medical evidence as the most probable explanation for the plaintiff's symptoms. Catastrophisation is a term used by psychologists when an individual "assumes a worse conclusion than they have adequate evidence to support and it involves an emotional reaction which is proportional to that dire conclusion". The judge believed that it was essentially the plaintiff’s position that "a minor impact produced a small physical finding … and she has essentially had a psychological reaction to that minor physical ailment out of all proportion to the physical findings". On the basis of this he found that the plaintiff subjectively believed she was in a far worse position than she actually was and held that she was entitled to be compensated for this subjective position in the sum of €100,000. It is implied in the judgment that the damages awarded were far less than the plaintiff’s claim which included a significant future loss of earnings element.
An appeal has been lodged with the Court of Appeal.