The Health & Safety Review – – has reported details of a groundbreaking settlement, under which an injured worker will immediately be paid general damages – and in the future will have his medical expenses covered and be paid an annual income – were disclosed in the High Court recently.

The form of the settlement, known as a structured settlement, is groundbreaking in Ireland, though common in many countries. The settlement comes as a working group, chaired by High Court judge, Mr Justice John Quirke, is examining how a system of periodic payments for catastrophic injuries might be introduced into the Irish compensation system.

The Case
As reported in the Irish Times, the case arose as a result of an incident in which a heavy sliding gate came off its shutters and fell on a security guard, who suffered a brain injury and injuries to his pelvis, leg and head. The injured worker is currently being cared for in a specialist unit operated by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland.

Following the accident, the family of the injured worker sued Iarnrod Eireann and others. Iarnrod Eireann took the lead role in the defence. Liability was admitted and under the terms of the settlement, Iarnrod Eireann has agreed to pay the injured worker:

* €250,000 for general and special damages
* The cost of his annual medical expenses, currently €160,000 a year
* A monthly income of €1,200 for future loss of earnings up to age 65 and on top of that to cover his tax obligations
* The payments are index-linked.

When the details of the settlement were put to the High Court for approval – because the injured worker is now a ward of court, the settlement had to be approved by the Court – the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Kearns, who described it as “historic” and said it was “imaginative, forward-looking and eminently sensible”.

The settlement approved by Mr Justice Kearns is an interim settlement and has been entered into in anticipation that the Government will enact legislation to facilitate structured settlements. In anticipation of such legislation, the case has been adjourned and will come back before the court in October 2011.

Structured Settlements
There are a number of definitions of what a structured settlement is, which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Coming up with a definition for Ireland will be one of the tasks facing Mr Justice Quirke’s working group.

Application To EL And PL Cases
While it is clear from the working group’s terms of reference that medical negligence cases were an important consideration in deciding to set up the group, the Review reports that it is clear from the Iarnrod Eireann case that catastrophic injuries can also arise in EL and PL cases, so the issue is one that health and safety advisors need to be aware of.

Further information is available on the Health & Safety Review website, which is a subscription service.