Another High Court judge has added his voice to the calls for periodic payments for medical negligence claims to avoid errors in compensation payments.
For many years, high-profile High Court judges have called for legislation to be passed in order to enable periodic payments for medical negligence claims. Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill, Mr Justice John Quirke and Ms Justice Mary Irvine have each expressed their frustration at the lack of a structured payment system which, they claim, results in awards of medical negligence compensation becoming a “lottery”.
Inasmuch as reports are always compiled into a plaintiff´s future requirements and compensation awarded on the basis of “anticipated life expectancy”, the judges are conscious that a long-living plaintiff will find their settlements inadequate for their needs. There has also recently been a case in which a judge increased a settlement of medical negligence compensation to account for the decline in interest rates.
Now Mr Justice Bernard Barton has added his voice to the calls for periodic payments for medical negligence claim,s after refusing an application by the National Maternity Hospital to award an interim payment of compensation to a child suffering from catastrophic birth injuries, and have the child´s needs reviewed again in ten years. The case is O’Neill vs National Maternity Hospital.
Although the National Maternity Hospital has admitted negligence, the settlement of the claim is being delayed because the two parties cannot reach an agreement on how much medical negligence compensation the plaintiff is entitled to. Whereas some consensus of opinion has been reached in terms of general damages for pain and suffering, there is a wide difference between what the plaintiff´s counsel are claiming for the child´s future aids and appliances (€445,000) and what the National Maternity Hospital is prepared to pay (€37,000).
Other areas of disagreement include future care and accommodation requirements and future loss of earnings, and the National Maternity Hospital argued that a ten-year adjournment of the case would help to resolve the areas of uncertainty. Mr Justice Barton agreed that the proposals was not without it attractions, as a more accurate settlement of medical negligence compensation would be more ascertainable by the time the injured girl reached the age of majority; however, the injured girl´s mother disagreed with the proposal – citing the psychological harm that her daughter might experience due to years of assessments.
The judge said that in the absence of agreement between the parties, there were no exceptional circumstances that would make it permissible for the Court to intervene against the express wishes of the child’s mother. The judge dismissed the proposal by the National Maternity Hospital, saying that she had exercised her constitutional rights as part of the family unit under the Constitution, and that if a system of periodic payments for medical negligence claims was in place, this situation would not have arisen.