Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Top medical insurer hits out at '€1m legal fees'
Sustained high legal costs in Ireland have been criticised for driving up costs for doctors and the State.
Two years after a report calling for reform of legal costs in clinical negligence cases, the UK-based medical insurer, Medical Protection, said that legal costs remained "very high".
One case was settled for €40,000 damages but the legal costs for the plaintiff were €80,000, according to Emma Hallinan, director of claims policy at the insurer. The fees were eventually "negotiated" down to €60,000.
"We frequently see claims where costs exceed the damages paid," said Ms Hallinan. "We have recently seen two cases in which plaintiff costs were claimed in excess of €1 million. In one of the claims, the plaintiff's bill was nearly €1.4 million, and after negotiation, was agreed at €900,000. In another the bill was just over €1 million and agreed at €800,000," said Ms Hallinan.
The Medical Protection Society's concern follows revelations last week that barristers and lawyers working for certain State bodies are lobbying for an increase in their fees now that the economic crisis has passed.
Fees for barristers working for the Director of Public Prosecutions and for lawyers on the free legal aid panel had their fees cut by almost 30pc since 2008.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed that legal costs increased by around 5pc over a six-month period last year. The cost of legal services in Ireland was also noted by the Troika, and by European Commission analysts who were sceptical about the reforms promised by new legislation.
The Medical Protection Society, which insures more than 15,000 Irish doctors each year, produced a report two years ago showing that Irish legal fees were higher than anywhere else in the Western world, and called for a cap to limit Irish lawyers' fees to 20pc of their client's award.
"Since this paper was published, Medical Protection has continued to monitor the situation and has seen sustained very high plaintiff costs in Ireland," said Ms Hallinan. "We remain concerned about the cost of clinical negligence and the increasing burden these costs have placed on both the State and individual practitioners."
Claims of high legal fees are disputed by the legal profession.
The Law Society has "refuted" the Medical Protection Society's claims as "crude" and accused it of making "erroneous and misleading" statements. It has said that better resourcing of the health and court systems would help avoid and reduce claims.
Motor insurers have also weighed in against legal fees, claiming that legal costs have contributed to the high costs of motor premiums.
The chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, David Barniville, dismissed these claims as "unfounded."
Barristers prosecuting criminal cases for the State have been lobbying for an increase in their fees now that the economic crisis has passed.
Solicitors and barristers dealing with free legal aid cases are also seeking an increase in fees. The State has cut fees for solicitors by almost 30pc since the bust.