Responsibility on Injured Party
Irish law places an obligation on a party initiating proceedings in respect of personal injuries to send a letter of claim in advance of the litigation. This letter sets out the basis of the alleged wrong and gives the Defendant an opportunity to admit liability. In reality, the function of this letter is to notify the defending parting that proceedings may be imminent.
Since 2004 the law has allowed the proposed Plaintiff a period of two months to serve a letter of claim, beginning from the date of the cause of action. If the Plaintiff failed to deliver the letter within such a period, ‘the court hearing the action may’ per Section 8 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004
‘’ (a) draw such inferences from the failure as appear proper, and
(b) where the interests of justice so require—
(i) make no order as to the payment of costs to the plaintiff, or
(ii) deduct such amount from the costs that would, but for this section, be payable to the plaintiff as it considers appropriate. ’’
As of the 19th of June 2019, Court rules now stipulate that the proposed Plaintiff has a period of one month only from the date of the cause of action in order to send the letter of claim. This places a greater responsibility on parties seeking to initiate a claim not to delay matters at the initial stages. Inferences can be drawn from a failure to serve the letter within one month or as soon as practicable thereafter and there can be financial consequences at the conclusion of the matter in respect of the awarding of costs.
The other significant aspect of this amendment is that under the previous legislation it stated that the Court ‘may’ consider the failure whereas under the new legislation it is stated the court ‘shall’ consider the failure, therefore the judicial discretion in this regard has been removed.
The consequence of this amendment for Plaintiffs is that a failure to serve a letter of claim on the Defendant within one month will certainly be considered at the conclusion of the matter in the awarding of costs. Of course, if there is a legitimate reason for the delay the judge will take this into consideration but this does not remove the possibility that the Judge will either make no order as to the payment of costs or deduct certain amounts from the Plaintiffs costs.
What does this mean for personal injury victim? If you have suffered personal injury and intend on proceeding with a claim, it is very important that you do not delay in coming to your Solicitor after the injury occurs so that there is sufficient time to consider the merits of your case and if appropriate, deliver a letter of claim to the relevant parties in a timely fashion.
Do not confuse a period of two years that injured party in general have to claim compensation for personal injury before their claim becomes statute barred. You still have that two year time limit to claim but there are potential financial consequences if a letter of claim is not sent within one month from the date of accident/injury.