As a personal injury Solicitor licensed by the Law Society of Ireland and as an American Board Certified Personal Injury lawyer, I have often been asked about the differences in the law of personal injury matters between Ireland and the US. As with many other areas of the law, personal injury and wrongful death matters in America are much easier to bring to court than in Ireland.
Irish law provides that all personal injury claims shall be filed not in the courts but through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or injuriesboard.ie. The board is a government agency which decides liability issues and the amount of compensation in personal injury matters. The claim can be filed with or without a solicitor (attorney). However, if the claim is filed by an attorney, the client will incur legal fees. In the United States, we have a history of greater access to the courts. It has been this way since the founding of the country and is enshrined in the 7th Amendment to the Constitution.
As such, personal injury and death cases in the United States are often decided by a jury – not a government agency. Whether a case is a minor car accident or a multi-million dollar wrongful death claim, citizens are always entitled to bring the matter to court and seek justice from a jury.
Another major difference between Irish and American law in personal injury and wrongful death matters is in the attorney of solicitor/lawyer compensation. In America, personal injury lawyers usually take cases on a percentage basis. That is, if the lawyer wins or settles the case, he or she gets a part of the recovery (usually 33% – 40%). If the case is lost, the lawyer does not get paid and the client owes the lawer nothing. In Ireland, however, it is illegal for a personal injury solicitor to charge any fee based upon a percentage of recovery. Therefore, an injured accident victim or their family must pay the lawyer, win or lose. I believe the American system is much better as it allows even poor people full access to the court system and the ability to seek as much compensation as they are entitled.
Michael P. Fleming is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also licensed as a Solicitor by the Law Society of Ireland. He has been practicing injury law and litigation for over 27 years.