Brian Morgan, Morgan McManus Solicitors, explains why the old ways of settling Claims may not be suitable to circumstances which will be relevant in post COVID-19 Ireland.
Having advised clients for many years in Personal Injury / Accident Claims, I must state that I have always had concerns about the manner in which the “Law-Library” Settlement Meetings have occurred over the years. Let me explain it a bit better.
Pre COVID-19 Settlement Meetings
Having undertaken possibly 2 years of work in progressing my client`s Claim (sometimes over 3 years, if it is a High Court case), getting Medical Reports, going through the wasteful PIAB process (which can often take in excess of one year! – read more about this in my Guide: Do I need a Solicitor when filing a PIAB Personal Injury Claim?), issuing Civil Proceedings and delivering various Pleadings, the time eventually comes when it is appropriate to advise the client to settle their Claim. That time is only appropriate after all Medical Reports have been obtained and the client (particularly if the injuries are complicated) has reached a stage where the GP and Consultants can give a final prognosis: that is, being able to state whether the client, after treatment, is on the road to recovery or that their injuries / symptoms have plateaued.
Four Courts Settlement Meeting
A meeting is then arranged for the Four Courts in Dublin. These meetings often occur at lunchtime: to facilitate the Barristers between the Court Hearings and also the Insurance Companies, whose representatives may also be in Court that day taking note of the evidence in contested Court Hearings. We, as solicitors, are required to arrange for our clients to be present outside the Law Library at 1pm to meet the Barrister, so that the Barrister can meet the client (sometimes for the first time) and then negotiate back and forward with the Insurance Company`s Barrister until a Settlement is reached. To a client, this can no doubt appear to be a very abrupt manner to settle a Claim in respect of their life-changing injury which had consumed their life for the previous years. Not very satisfactory, you might say!
But this is the way it has worked for decades, and why change the habits of a lifetime? And sure hasn`t it suited client, Solicitor, Barristers and the Insurance Companies? But has it been good enough?
What was good enough yesterday may not be good enough tomorrow!
We have seen already that many of the habits of yesterday will no longer be acceptable post COVID-19, particularly where Social Distancing is required. For instance, beyond the problems outlined above with the Law Library meetings in the past, these meetings have occurred where the room outside the Law Library (where the Settlement Meetings occur) is packed with clients, legal personnel and Insurance Company Representatives – where there is standing-room only and the opportunity for contamination must be rife!
Post COVID-19 Settlements
Will such meetings be permitted? Will they be permitted even in the short-term? If not, how are Claims to be settled?
The New World is here already
Already, Claims are being settled in a new manner. Just as the Courts Service is already looking at new ways of running the Courts system, Solicitors are arranging new ways to settle Claims. After all, the system cannot stop. Clients are entitled to have their Claims settled, and settled now.
What has now occurred is that clients are settling Claims in the comfort of their homes. Well, they cannot leave their homes at present; certainly not beyond a 2 kilometre distance! I am now arranging Telephone Consultations and 3-way SKYPE meetings between myself, the client and the Barrister before the Barrister is authorized to then negotiate with the other side. There is no reason why a similar type Consultation cannot be organized with the Solicitor, client and Barrister once the Barrister has finalized his negotiations. The client may meet in the future (post COVID-19) with their Solicitor at the Solicitor`s Office and consult with the Barrister remotely to conclude the matter.
Will everyone not revert to the old habits?
Certainly in the coming months no Law Library meetings can occur. In the coming year, as we are allowed back out from our houses, there will be extreme concern about large gatherings in small spaces. Medical advice will issue on this and legal bodies will be guided by that advice, just as other bodies will be.
Will the new way become a habit over the coming year? How many times must we do something new before it becomes a habit? Is this the last we have seen of the crowded Lunch-time Law Library meetings?
For further information on Accident / Personal Injury Claims you should contact:
Morgan McManus Solicitors
*In contentious business a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.