The Covid Effect – Two years on, what affect has covid had on Casualty Claims in Northern Ireland?

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The Covid Effect – Two years on, what affect has covid had on Casualty Claims in Northern Ireland?

Published 25 January 2022

We are approaching the second anniversary of the global pandemic brought about by Covid–19.  Almost two years on, we are beginning to see the emergence of the effect of the pandemic on litigation trends in Northern Ireland.  

The key areas in which we are seeing the greatest effect to date are as follows: –

Employers Liability: –

  • Broadly speaking this can be divided into 2 growth areas, (i) increased claims from key workers/frontline workers and (ii) increased claims brought about by the substantial increase of those working from home.
  • In looking at the key workers/frontline employees, an increase in claims in relation to issues including the contraction of Covid-19 due to a lack of PPE/unsafe work systems and claims for psychiatric injuries due to the fear of contracting the virus and stress / burnout.
  • In relation to those working from home, it is anticipated that claims will include claims for musculoskeletal issues brought about by unsafe workstations and the lack of risk assessment and claims for psychiatric injury due to stress brought about by a lack of in-person training particularly for new employees and overwork/burnout.

Public Liability:-

  • Due to the socio-economic changes brought about by the furlough scheme and redundancies as a direct result of Covid-19 it is anticipated that the level of opportunistic and fraudulent claims will significantly increase.
  • Opportunistic claims are likely to be made up of those originating from highway defects and/or unmanned building sites particularly during periods of lockdown when no active work was being undertaken and routine inspections were on hold.
  • Fraudulent motor claims are anticipated for similar reasons also.

Retail:-

  • As above, it is anticipated that there will be an influx of claims brought about by key workers due to allegations of overwork/lack of PPE and lack of training or staff shortages as a direct result of the impact of the pandemic.
  • Claims are being brought by members of the public in relation to the rules in association with wearing masks indoors and the necessity to prove medical exemption. It is anticipated that we will see an increase in the number of claims brought by members of the public in association with contracting the Covid-19 virus within indoor retail spaces. 
  • Claims brought by employees who are violently assaulted due to the enforcement of wearing masks are also expected.

In addition to growth areas in respect of claims initiated as a direct result of Covid-19, we anticipate there will be an effect on damages brought about by such claims:

  • We are likely to see an increase in special damage claims brought by Plaintiffs in respect of care claims/private medical treatment particularly given the current level of pressure on the NHS to provide such treatment. This will be a potentially significant area of change within Northern Ireland on the basis that traditionally care claims are usually only pleaded in more complex injury/catastrophic injury cases and medical negligence cases.
  • We anticipate an increase in loss of earnings claims initiated by Plaintiffs particularly in connection with contraction of Covid-19 and the potential long-term effects of same on their ability to resume their normal employment.

Each jurisdiction within the UK has moved at its own pace and in line with its own government guidelines in respect of the response to the pandemic.  In Northern Ireland we have largely remained subject to guidelines which included the wearing of facemasks within indoor areas and largely office workers continuing to work from home throughout where this was possible.  In some ways therefore it could be viewed that the continuing of such guidelines and restrictions would lead to a less significant increase in certain cases than in other parts of the UK where e.g. the wearing of masks was no longer required from in and around August 2021 until more recently, however in other ways e.g. the fact that office workers have remained largely working from home, it is likely to be balanced by the increase in the number of potential cases brought within this particular area.  In addition, the NHS in Northern Ireland was already more significantly stretched than its other UK counterparts prior to the pandemic and therefore arguably has suffered to a greater extent since.  The implications both on patients and staff is anticipated to be potentially  very significant as a result. 

Continued advice to insurance clients includes:

  • the necessity for insureds to carry out Covid-19 specific risk assessments;
  • to ensure full and proper training/PPE being made available to employees of their Insured's is of paramount importance; and
  • rehabilitation should also be offered at an early stage whereby this is deemed appropriate in order to mitigate against potentially escalating care costs and loss of earnings claims.

Authors

Aine Tyrrell

Aine Tyrrell

Belfast

+44 (0) 2890412833

Elaine Kennedy

Elaine Kennedy

Belfast

+44 (0) 289 041 2837