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Claims management criticism ‘routinely not deserved’ – State Claims Agency

The State Claims Agency (SCA) said criticisms of “unacceptable” delays in conceding liability or agreeing quantum in medical negligence cases were “routinely not deserved”, according to a submission it made to an expert group. The Agency made the statement in a 2018 submission to an expert group established by Government to review the system for management of clinical negligence claims. The report of the group, chaired by Mr Justice Charles Meenan, was published in December 2020 and submissions to the expert group were released. The report’s recommendations are being assessed by the departments of Health and Justice.

The SCA submission, dated August 2018, stated: “It is all too common for persons familiar with, involved in, or reporting individual cases to make public remarks critical of the management of claims by the Agency, suggesting there has been unacceptable delay in conceding liability or agreeing quantum. This kind of criticism is routinely not deserved.”

Although “personally frustrating” for those involved in the defence of such claims, it was “rarely appropriate for the Agency to respond to such criticism and it is mostly prohibited from doing so”. Therefore, it was “rare for the full unvarnished facts to be disclosed in these matters”, it contended. Noting that submissions to the expert group may be published, the Agency said it acknowledged the “importance of transparency” and the need for the group to be able to report publicly on its work.

“However, the Agency is sometimes restricted in the details that it is free to address in public, with respect to historic and pending claims.” The SCA referenced a recent “high profile and sensitive case” at the time of the submission, in which the Agency had been criticised in the media and other forums for its case management, and in particular, for imposing obstacles to settlement.

“Nothing could have been further from the truth,” it argued.

“All of the criticism ignored the fact that the presiding judge, Mr Justice Kevin Cross, praised the manner in which the case had been managed by the Agency,” according to the submission.

“While some cases can take up to between two-to-three years to be concluded, that particular case was settled within 10 weeks of the summons being lodged. Mr Justice Cross said the case was handled in an efficient and humane manner, with all sides pulling out the stops to get the matter ready for hearing quickly.”

The SCA is responsible for ensuring the State’s liabilities are contained at the lowest achievable level. Its submission noted that many of the recommendations and reforms proposed by the working group on medical negligence and periodic payments, and inter-departmental working group on legislation on periodic payment orders, were not in force.

“The Agency believes that much of the well-motivated interest in reform of the existing legal framework would be answered by implementation of these awaited reforms.”

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