The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Piab) is not entitled to pursue a policy of dealing directly with clients rather than through their solicitors.
The board has no power under the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act of 2003 to adopt such a policy and, if claimants choose to hire solicitors, the board must deal with those solicitors, Ms Justice Susan Denham said.
The right to legal representation is “a fundamental right” and, if the Oireachtas intended Piab to be “a lawyer-free zone”, it would have said so, she added. The Piab policy was an interference in the solicitor/client relationship and had no foundation in the 2003 Act.
In managing its business, Piab was entitled under the 2003 Act to keep a claimant informed of the process by, for example, sending the client copies of letters sent by Piab to the client’s solicitor, the judge added.
The court also noted the costs of such legal representation would not be paid by the board but would be deducted from any award it might make to a claimant.
The board was established in April 2004 in a bid to reduce the costs of personal injury claims. The legislation provides a potential claimant is prohibited from initiating civil proceedings for damages for injuries without having first applied to the board. The board also has no power to award legal costs or expenses.
Last Friday, the three-judge Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Mr Justice John Murray presiding, and sitting with Ms Justice Denham and Ms Justice Fidelma Macken, dismissed Piab’s appeal against the High Court’s upholding of Mr Declan O’Brien’s challenge to its policy of dealing directly with clients.
The Law Society had supported the proceedings by Mr O’Brien, a meat factory worker of Summer Road, Tullamore, Co Offaly, which arise from his action for damages for injuries allegedly suffered in a workplace accident in November 2001.
Lawyers for Mr O’Brien claimed his right to be represented by a solicitor was breached by Piab’s actions in seeking to deal directly with him rather than through his authorised solicitor, Denis Boland, of Newbridge, Co Kildare.
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