In a recent ruling, the Irish High Court was asked to examine the extent to which a plaintiff was required to respond to a notice for particulars. The judge examined how the obligation is affected by legislation that requires plaintiffs to provide detailed information ‘up front’ in a personal injuries summons. The judge was critical of defendant solicitors who, despite this legislation, persist in the “habitual and indiscriminate” use of notices for particulars to elicit unnecessary information from plaintiffs.
In this case, the defendants are being sued by the plaintiff for damages for personal injuries she sustained after she fell from an examination couch. The case is, therefore, a personal injuries case and not a medical negligence action. The defendants sought detailed particulars from the plaintiff. In his ruling, the judge clarified that the purpose of particulars is to convey “in broad outline” the nature of the case a party has to meet, but not the nature of the evidence the other party will use at trial. Against this backdrop, he refused, for example, to order the plaintiff to give a detailed narrative of the accident. He also refused to order the plaintiff to disclose other “irrelevant” information, such as whether she has legal cost insurance.
Taking a strict stance, the judge stated that requests for particulars have been “allowed to proliferate in many areas of legal practice far beyond the boundaries” envisaged, allowing defendants to obtain irrelevant information as well as elicit evidence which should be dealt with at trial. He concluded that litigators have been displaying “too much of the lion and not enough of the fox” when it comes to raising particulars. He stated that a shift towards a more “discriminating approach”, avoiding the “unnecessary and the irrelevant”, will result in genuine questioning aimed at clarifying the exact nature of the case to be answered by a party.
Though this case has been met with some enthusiasm by plaintiff firms in medical negligence cases, previous High Court decisions have clarified that the nature of medical negligence actions necessitate detailed information to be given by plaintiffs. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the court will adopt the same strict approach when it comes to medical negligence disputes.