INSURANCE companies who are being sued through the State's Personal Injuries Assessment Board will be forced to pay the legal costs of "vulnerable" accident victims and others who have difficulty accessing the lawyer-free claims service.
In a remarkable u-turn on its zero-tolerance policy of refusing to pay accident victims' legal fees, the claims agency says that it will now cover a range of external costs for certain claimants on a case-by-case basis.
Since it first opened its doors three years ago, the PIAB has operated a blanket policy of refusing to pay any legal fees incurred by accident victims, 90pc of whom retain lawyers even though they cannot claim their legal costs through the claims agency.
Yesterday the board, which allows additional fees to be paid out to claimants who lack full legal capacity, said that it would pay for claimants' legal fees and other external expenses in "exceptional circumstances".
It is anticipated that successful claimants will be compensated for a range of services including legal costs, medical fees and interpretation outlays.
"There will also be exceptional cases where a claimant requires additional assistance to gain access to our service, and the board recognises this," said Patricia Byron, PIAB chief executive.
"I believe this is a very welcome and necessary development and benefits those claimants who by virtue of individual circumstances need external advice to process their claim with PIAB."
Earlier this month, the it was revealed that the Government's scheme to combat the country's compensation culture gravy train had failed to curb claimants going to court.
The PIAB was established by the Government to eradicate legal fees and reduce soaring insurance premiums, but there has been a five-fold increase in the number of personal injury actions in the High Court in less than two years, despite the fact that all motor, employer and public liability claims are legally obliged to be assessed through the board.
The fact that claimants can recover their legal costs are enticing thousands back to the High Court.
The average award handed down by the PIAB last year was €19,610. This compares to the Circuit Court, where the average payout is €13,423; but in the High Court almost four out of 10 claimants receive an award between €38,000 and €99,999.
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