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Published 3 November 2020
A recent Court of Appeal case examined the calculation of the appropriate level of general damages and the interpretation of the book of quantum.
The case concerned a claim for compensation in respect of a somewhat complicated fracture of the scaphoid which had required surgery. The matter had proceeded as an assessment of damages in the High Court . The trial judge considered the book of quantum and awarded €155,000 for general damages which was comprised of:- €70,000 for injuries to the wrist, €40,000 in respect of loss to the Plaintiff’s career, €15,000 for the loss of hobbies and €30,000 in relation to pain and suffering into the future.
An appeal was subsequently brought to the Court of Appeal in respect of the quantum of the award.
Reference was made in the Court of Appeal judgment to the recent case of McKeown v Crosby in which the Court stated that an award of damages must be proportionate in the context of the cap for general damages in respect of the most serious injuries (set at €500,000). It was also noted that damages must be proportionate in the context of awards given by the courts for comparable injuries and the award must be fair to the Plaintiff and the Defendant. It was reiterated that if the book of quantum is relevant to the particular injury or injuries at issue, the court is obliged to have regard to it as a guide to the ultimate award.
The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge had erred in his application of the book of quantum. In coming to this conclusion, the Court pointed out that the figures provided for in the book of quantum encompass the entirety of the damages appropriate to a particular injury. The trial judge seemed to have erroneously considered that the book of quantum merely referred to damages for pain and suffering to date and awarded a sum accordingly. He had awarded a further sum for pain and suffering into the future. It was also found that this error had been compounded in awarding a separate heading of damage in respect of loss of the Plaintiff’s hobbies which should have been encompassed within the range of damages awarded for pain and suffering. The injury was also recategorised by the Court of Appeal to a less serious category. The Court of Appeal found that the High Court award of general damages in this case was excessive to a degree that rendered it ‘disproportionate’ and an ‘error of law’. The award for general damages was reduced from €155,000 to €90,000, which award took account of and made provision for an element of loss of opportunity.
This judgment provides further clarity in respect of the calculation of general damages and the interpretation of the book of quantum. It serves as an important reminder that the figures in the book of quantum represent overall figures for compensatory damages. The emphasis on the principle of proportionality in this judgment, and in the judgment in the McKeown case , may also provide an insight into the rationale which will form the basis of the guidelines for damages being drafted by the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee.
 (2020) IECA 296 2018/1304P (2020) IECA 242 See above
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