Recent jurisprudence of the Court of Appeal (the "Court") shows a pattern of reducing awards of damages from the High Court. The Court has stated that it has found some High Court awards to be excessive and outside the permissible range of damages typically granted. It has also been critical of the lack of objective reasoning in reaching awards and of the method of assessment of damages.
Helpfully, the Court has given guidance as to how damages should be assessed.
In Payne v Nugent , the High Court had awarded €65,000 for general damages in a road traffic claim where a back seat passenger was injured when a car was rear ended. On appeal, the injuries in this case were held to be relatively modest and damages were reduced to €35,000. The principles outlined by the Court in deciding to reduce the award are of interest. It held that it is important that compensation in respect of pain and suffering should be reasonable and proportionate and that an award of one-sixth of the top end of damages was not proportionate in this case.
In Nolan v Wirenski , the Court again spoke about damages having to be just and reasonable and assessed by reference to a spectrum of damages from minor to catastrophic/life changing injuries that have a cap of €450,000. The Court held that damages should be:-
- Fair to the plaintiff and the defendant
- Objectively reasonable in light of the common good and social conditions in the State
- Proportionate within the scheme of awards for personal injuries generally
It was held that the task of the Court is to objectively assess injuries against a spectrum and outline the reasons for the decision.
In the earlier Supreme Court decision of M.N. v S.M. , Ms Justice Denham (as she was then) advised that damages can only be fair and just if they are proportionate not only to the injuries sustained by the plaintiff but also proportionate when assessed against the level of the damages commonly awarded to other plaintiffs who have sustained injuries that are of a significantly greater or lesser magnitude. She said it is important that minor injuries attract appropriately modest damages, middling injuries moderate damages and more severe injuries damages of a level which are clearly distinguishable in terms of quantum from those that fall into other lesser categories.
An updated Book of Quantum has been published since these decisions were handed down. However, this is unlikely to have a major impact on this trend in awards of damages as the Court is of the view that, independently of the Book of Quantum, it is also appropriate to examine the award of damages by reference to where the injuries fall on the spectrum.
Going forward, it is expected that the approach of the Court will be to locate the seriousness of the case at an appropriate point somewhere on a scale that includes everything from the most minor to the most serious injuries and award damages accordingly.