6. Civil Liability and Commercial Law

6.1 Caps on Damages in Personal Injuries Litigation

In 2019 the Commission began work on its project concerning caps on damages in personal injuries litigation (5th Programme of Law Reform, Project 9).

A number of submissions suggested that the Commission examine aspects of civil liability in personal injuries claims, including the level of damages in such cases. The Cost of Insurance Working Group and the Personal Injuries Commission have been examining a wide range of issues concerning the cost of motor, employer and public liability insurance, and this has included aspects of the award of damages in such cases. Having regard to the general submissions received, and to a request from the Working Group and the Department of Justice and Equality, the Commission will examine whether it is appropriate to legislate for a cap to be placed on the levels of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injury claims.

The Commission has previously examined this area, including in its 2000 report which recommended that the law on damages should be developed primarily by case law[1]. The courts have, in a series of cases, including Sinnott v Quinnsworth Ltd[2], Yun v Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland[3] and Shannon v O’Sullivan[4], laid down what have been described as “caps” or “tariffs” on general damages (damages for pain and suffering), which take account of the injuries suffered by a plaintiff and in some instances the level of special damages awarded (for example, for loss of earnings and medical care costs). These caps or tariffs have been adjusted by the courts over the years, taking account of general economic conditions and medical costs inflation. The current project will consider, having regard to the current role of the courts in this area, whether it would be constitutionally permissible or otherwise desirable to provide for a statutory regime that would place a cap on damages in personal injuries cases. The project will also have regard to developments in related aspects of the law on damages, such as the provision for Periodic Payment Orders under the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act 2017, and to developments in other comparable jurisdictions.

[1] A similar view was taken by the Law Commission for England and Wales in its 1998 Report Damages for Personal Injury: Non-Pecuniary Loss (Law Com No. 257)

[2] [1984] ILRM 253

[3] [2009] IEHC 318

[4] [2016][ IECA 93

6.2 Liability of Unincorporated Associations

In 2019 the Commission began work on its project concerning the liability of unincorporated associations (5th Programme of Law Reform, Project 12).

The 2017 decision of the Supreme Court in Hickey v McGowan[1] has identified the need for a review of the civil liability of unincorporated associations. The plaintiff alleged that he had been sexually abused between 1968 and 1972 by a member of the Marist Order of Religious Brothers, an unincorporated body. The Court held that, while the plaintiff was entitled to seek and obtain judgment against individuals who were members of the Order between 1968 and 1972 on the grounds of their vicarious liability as a group, he could not obtain judgment against the Order as such. The likely effect of this was that the plaintiff would not obtain judgment against the current assets of the Order.

The decision in the Hickey case reflects the long-established common law view that an unincorporated body, which also includes many sporting clubs, has no separate legal character distinct from its members. Thus, in Murphy v Roche and Ors[2], the High Court held that the plaintiff, a member of a GAA club who fell and injured himself at a dance on the club’s premises, could not sue the club because he would, in effect, be suing himself. It has been suggested that this exclusion from civil liability of unincorporated associations is difficult to reconcile with the right to equal treatment under Article 40.1 of the Constitution and the right of access to the courts under Article 40.3 and under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights[3]. By contrast, criminal liability may be imposed on an unincorporated club, at least in respect of statutory offences. Thus, in Director of Public Prosecutions v Wexford Farmers Club[4], the High Court held that the defendant club could be convicted for an offence under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, which applies to a “person” and which was defined in the Interpretation Act 1937 (and now in the Interpretation Act 2005) as meaning both a corporate body and an unincorporated body of persons.

The project will therefore address: whether and when separate legal personality may be ascribed to unincorporated associations; and whether members should be able to sue their own unincorporated associations, including sports clubs. The project may also address whether there is a need for greater clarity as to the criminal liability of unincorporated bodies.

[1] [2017] IESC 6, [2017][ 2 IR 196

[2] [1987] IR 656

[3] See McMahon and Binchy, Law of Torts 4th ed (Bloomsbury, 2013) at para 39.25

[4] [1994] 2 ILRC 295


Back to list of current projects