Written Answers. - Hearing Impairment Claims.

Thursday, 1 April 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 503 No. 2

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  17.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)  Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   his views on whether the Green Book is central to any resolution of the deafness compensation issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9268/99]

  18.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the plans, if any, he has to appeal the Hanley case; if the papers of appeal have been lodged by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9246/99]

  26.  Ms Clune  Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the progress, if any, he has made in establishing a tribunal to deal with deafness compensation claims; the plans, if any, he has to base this on the Green Book or a modification of it following recent court cases; if there will be a scale of compensation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9240/99]

  70.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe  Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   if he expects further deafness compensation claims to be lodged by members or former members of the Defence Forces; and, if so, the likely number involved. [9068/99]

  90.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe  Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the steps, if any, being taken to minimise the likelihood of further deafness compensation claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9069/99]

  114.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the progress, if any, he has made in establishing a tribunal to deal with deafness compensation claims; the plans, if any, he has to base this on the Green Book or a modification of it following recent court cases; if there will be a scale of compensation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9306/99]

[336]

  117.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the plans, if any, he has to appeal the Hanley case; if the papers of appeal have been lodged by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9309/99]

  136.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   his views on whether the Green Book is central to any resolution of the deafness compensation issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9328/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 18, 26, 70, 90, 114, 117 and 136 together.

I have asked my Department to prepare proposals for Government for a compensation scheme for serving and former personnel of the Defence Forces who may have suffered a hearing disability arising from their service. The scheme will be based on the Green Book which has been accepted by the courts as a fair and reasonable system of assessing disability and which has been underpinned by the Oireachtas in the Civil Liability (Assessment of Injury) Act, 1998. It is, accordingly, the key factor in assessing the level of disability in individual claims.

In setting the proposed level of compensation I will be mindful, first, of striking an equitable balance between the rights of claimants with genuine injuries and what can be afforded by the taxpayer. Second, I must also have regard to the quantum of damages awarded by the courts in these cases.

In this latter connection, it is well known that I have reservations about the tariff established last year in the second test case, Hanley. Although the Green Book was generally accepted as the basis for the assessment of hearing injury in that case, an additional dimension was added to take account of future hearing loss. This, combined with the tariff, greatly increases the damages indicated in the first test case, Greene.

In response, my Department has been consulting with experts in the fields of medicine and statistics regarding the modified assessment methodology developed in Hanley. As Deputies are aware, the Supreme Court is not a court of first instance and will, on appeal, deal only with arguments which were first made in the High Court. My difficulty with the prognostic factor introduced in Hanley revolves around the increasing unreliability of any statistical methodology the further into the future it is required to predict. In the case of a 30 year old with a present zero disability, the Hanley prognostication formula could permit an award of up to £9,000 in damages. Furthermore, if the same individual had a 35 per cent hearing disability he would, under the Hanley tariff, receive what I had understood a person with total deafness would otherwise have generally received from the courts. In these circumstances, I have been taking advice on whether it would be preferable to address these issues in a third case in the High Court or to proceed to [337] seek an early hearing of the Hanley appeal on the basis that sufficient evidence is available in that case to make these arguments in the Supreme Court.

Having regard to the Green Book's status as a fair assessment system and assuming a reasonable and affordable tariff emerges from the courts, I do not see the necessity for a tribunal with attendant delay and representation costs, rather, I intend to establish a compensation scheme which will provide for the speedy resolution of claims by reference to established and accepted criteria of assessment and compensation.

With regard to future claims, it is impossible to say how many claims will eventually materialise. I have noted that recently there has been a decline in the number arriving each week. The level of new claims is now averaging at about 100 per month. It is estimated that up to 150,000 personnel served in the Defence Forces prior to 1987, the date which is generally accepted as being the date on which a safe system of hearing protection was in place for military personnel. It is thought, however, that claims for the more serious injuries have already been made as newer claims tend to show a lower level of hearing disability.

  19.  Mr. U. Burke  Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the amount paid to date in deafness compensation cases; the cost of legal fees; the awards made; the administrative costs in this regard to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9244/99]

  110.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the fees paid to date to solicitors firms for work done on deafness compensation claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9300/99]

  116.  Ms Fitzgerald  Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the amount paid to date in deafness compensation cases; the cost of legal fees; the awards made; the administrative costs in this regard to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9308/99]

  164.  Mr. Durkan  Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   the number of new Army deafness compensation claims received in the past month; the way in which this compares to previous months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9537/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I propose to take Questions Nos. 19, 110, 116 and 164 together.

By 19 March last, the total cost of awards, settlements and costs paid by my Department in Army hearing loss claims was almost £71 million; £2.6 million has been paid in respect of 154 court awards, while out of court settlements in 2,698 cases have cost £53 million. Legal fees paid to firms of solicitors amount to £15.3 million to date.

[338] Administration costs are currently estimated at approximately £750,000 per year for staff and overheads in the Department of Defence; £850,000 per year for staff and overheads in respect of the Defence Forces, and almost £800,000 per year for staff and overheads in the Chief State Solicitor's Office. A total estimate for administrative costs is, therefore, approximately £2.4 million per year.

The monthly rate of claims received this year has been 100 claims in January, 99 claims in February and 48 claims up to 19 March, a total of 247 claims.


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