Supreme Court Confirms that Insurers and Defendants can be Estopped from Relying on the Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases
By Áine McSweeney, Solicitor, Litigation Department.
In the case of Murphy v Grealish (2006) IEHC 22 the plaintiff, Mr Murphy, sustained injuries to his neck and back when the vehicle driven by the defendant collided into the plaintiff’s stationary vehicle on 12th May 2000.
Quinn Direct, the insurers for the defendant, entered into correspondence with Mr. Murphy initially and then Mr. Murphy’s solicitors. The insurers invited Mr Murphy’s solicitor to discuss settlement of the case and indicated that liability was not an issue. Mr Murphy and his solicitors relied on this admission of liability and did not issue proceedings within the three year time limit set by the Statute of Limitations. A settlement was not reached and Mr Murphy brought a court action outside of the three year limitation period.The defendant asked the court to dismiss the proceedings on the basis that they had been brought to the court too late, after the limitation period.
The Court refused to dismiss the proceedings. The Court emphasised the admission of liability, the continuance of correspondence and steps towards settlement. Mr. Justice MacMenamin found that the plea of Statute of Limitations by the insurers Quinn Direct was unconscionable.
An appeal by Quinn Direct, the defendant’s insurers, against the High Court Judgment refusing to dismiss the proceedings because they were statute barred was heard by the Supreme Court. (Murphy v Grealish) (2009) IESC 9)
Mr Murphy responded to the appeal by stating that from an early stage the defendant and insurers admitted liability and that thereafter negotiations proceeded surrounding the medical condition of the appellant with a view to establishing quantum. Accordingly he argued that it would be unfair to allow the defendant and insurers to rely on the Statute of Limitations, as the High Court had already determined.
Justice Geoghegan delivered the judgment for the Supreme Court on 10th February 2009. He agreed with Mr. Justice MacMenamin’s decision of the High Court when he stated that the insurers were estopped in the circumstances of the case from now pleading the Statute of Limitations.