The O’Byrne Letter Precedent

Because I was involved in a multi-car pile-up, for which I was in no way to blame, and broke my leg my friend mentioned that I need to be aware of the O’Byrne letter precedent. Can you explain?

In order to understand the O’Byrne letter precedent you must first be aware of “letters of claim”. A person who wishes to make a personal injury claim in Ireland generally has two months in which to advise the negligent party that a claim is being made against them, and the letter pre-warns them that they will be hearing from the Injuries Board with a Formal Notice — which informs the respondent that the Injuries Board has received an application for personal injuries assessment. A solicitor would usually send this letter of claim to the negligent party once they have been instructed by their client.

This “letter of claim” refers to a situation in which one party is liable for the injuries sustained by the accident victim. However, in cases that involve more than one potential defendant to the plaintiff’s compensation claim — a multiple car crash, for example – it must be decided to what extent they are each respectively liable.

In circumstances such as a multiple-car pile-up, the standard “letter of claim” is replaced by an “O’Byrne letter” precedent. When multiple respondents are involved in an accident, the O’Byrne letter states the issue of liability as between the respondents. It is up to the respondents, thereafter, to decide amongst themselves what degree of responsibility they should accept. It will state that the accident in question happened as a result of the negligence of the recipient and that of other respondents but that the plaintiff is not in a position to say who is responsible.

The O’Byrne letter precedent will call on the recipient to admit liability within a certain identified period and to make offers to compensate the plaintiff. A warning will follow, that in the absence of an admission of liability, and his or her offer to compensate the plaintiff, application will be made to the Injuries Board. Another warning will be included, that if court proceedings become necessary, the O’Byrne letter itself will be used in evidence in order to fix the unsuccessful negligent party with the costs of the same in favour of the proposed negligent party who is found not liable. Additionally, if relevant, the plaintiff may request a written undertaking that property involved in the accident will not be adjusted, improved or modified by the recipient before it has been examined by an expert witness.

Concerning the O’Byrne letter precedent, it is important to remember that where multiple negligent parties are involved and it is unclear who was “most” responsible or who caused more damage or injury to the plaintiff, the plaintiff should not attempt to prove negligence or even engage in debate over the issue. It will be made clear by the plaintiff’s solicitor from the beginning; that is matter is for the various respondents to decide amongst themselves.