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High Court Judges Call for Structured Payment Scheme for Compensation Settlements

Many High Court judges have called for the government to introduce a structured payment scheme for compensation settlements to catastrophically injured patients.

For several years now, many prominent High Court judges have made statements to the government expressing the need for legislation to enable structured payment systems for hospital negligence compensation settlements. They claim that the current system of lump sum payments is cumbersome, and failing the victims of negligence and their families. The judges-including Mr Justice John Quirke, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, and Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill-liken the way such claims are settled at the moment to a “lottery”, or a gamble on the basis of the anticipated life expectancy of a seriously injured victim.

Mr Justice Bernard Barton has recently spoken in favour of the movement with his fellow judges. His statement came while he was presiding over the O’Neill vs National Maternity Hospital. The case involved a young girl who suffers from cerebral palsy as a result of negligence by the hospital staff in charge of her birth in 2007. The defendants admit liability for her injuries. However, there is a disagreement as to how the compensation shall be paid; the defendants want to make interim settlements, but the mother of the young girl wants to a full settlement to be offered. Furthermore, neither party can agree to how much compensation the girl should be awarded.

There is considerable disagreement between the two parties as to the full cost of the girl’s future needs, and the potential loss of earnings of the family members charged with caring for her.  They argue that by offering an interim settlement, an investigation can be made over the next decade so that her needs can be assessed. Then, they would compile a report and the value of compensation calculated. However, her mother declined this manner of settlement. She claims that the frequent disruptions to her daughter’s life may cause psychological damage, and she wants her to live as normal a life as possible.

The judge and both parties agreed that if structured payment systems were in place, it would be easier to resolve the dispute over how much compensation the girl-or any catastrophically injured plaintiff-should receive. Negotiations in this case continue, with hopes of them reaching an end in the near future. The aforementioned judges have all used cases like this in the past to highlight the importance of structured settlements. The government has yet to act on their suggestions.

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