“lawyer-free zone”, or competitor?

Officially, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (the “Board”) is just another boring statutory body performing a function on behalf of the State. However, the Board has often exceeded that mandate since its creation by acting as a vocal critic of the legal profession. Arguably,the Board also operates as a commercial entity in competition with lawyers, albeit a very strange form of competition where the aim is to deprive lawyers of fees rather than to earn those fees for itself.

I mentioned recently that a wide range of restrictions apply to advertising by solicitors, despite the fact that the Board advertises in a manner not dissimilar to the personal injury solicitors familiar to viewers of UK television. (An example of the latter is below; I have been unable to find ads online.)

Indeed, after a few years of operating under its official name, the Board began to style itself, a form of branding very much in line with what one might expect from an online claims agency.

An online claims agency like, perhaps? In 2010, made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland under its self-regulatory code on the basis that users might believe was the website of the Board. It also complained that it was not clear who was running or from where. The complaint was upheld, though did not respond to it. The ASAI referred the case to the National Consumer Agency, presumably with a view to enforcement action under the Consumer Protection Act 2007.

Part of the Board’s complaint related to Google adwords, which really is a matter for the courts (in fact, it is very much a live issue for the courts). The Board was correct in stating that it is unclear who is behind, but contact details are provided. The site appears to be run by a company called Claims Ireland Limited but there is no company registered in Ireland with that name (there are two registered business names for “Claims Ireland”). So, the operator may have some difficulties under the Companies Acts or related legislation, which is a matter for the Companies Registration Office and the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Nevertheless, the Board was the organisation to take up the complaint and its choice of forum was the relatively powerless ASAI.

When making a complaint to the ASAI, the complainant must indicate if there is a commercial or other interest in making the complaint. For consumers, the answer will be no. A practical difference in treatment is that a consumer complaint is confidential, whereas the ASAI publishes the name of corporate complainants. The ASAI does not generally entertain complaints between competitors but may do so if a consumer interest is at stake.

What was the Board’s interest: commercial or consumer? The Board’s own website says that individuals may engage an agent to conduct a claim on their behalf. (Why anyone other than a solicitor would take on that role, given the regulatory and liability consequences, is unknown.) If the Board’s complaint was not a case of staking its commercial territory, and instead was acting in the interest of consumers, why does it otherwise go to such great lengths to discourage consumers from engaging independent professionals, the identity and reputations of which are well known?

2 thoughts on “ “lawyer-free zone”, or competitor?

  1. Rossa, it is incredible that, 6 years after the enactment of the PIAB Act, a lot of victims of accidents do not realize the importance of instructing a solicitor. Just like you, I have highlighted to my clients the importance of obtaining legal advice – see my BLOG “13 matters you should consider before you submit an Accident Compensation Claim to” on our website at
    I find your BLOGS very interesting. Keep tweeting !

  2. I agree fully. As is the case generally (and as I often complain), the profession is so discredited and viewed with such suspicion that its views on PIAB have always been ignored.

    Of course solicitors have a vested interest in personal injury cases. That does not, however, mean that they are wrong when they point out the unfairness of pitting lay litigants against experienced claims managers and lawyers. The overwhelming fact of PIAB is that is was created and is operated to serve the interests of the insurance industry, not injured parties.

    I remember a paper by Stuart Gilhooly that was circulated around the time the Act was passed in 2003 that very clearly made out the arguments against PIAB; I must try to find a copy.

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