Nuns fail to stop court action on alleged rape

Plaintiff claims Sisters of Charity are vicariously responsible for alleged sexual assault by groundsman

The Sisters of Charity argued they are prejudiced defending the case on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman.

The Sisters of Charity argued they are prejudiced defending the case on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman.

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 18:54

The Sisters of Charity have failed to stop a High Court action in which it is alleged they are vicariously liable for alleged rape and sexual assault of a schoolgirl by a groundsman allegedly employed in a Magdalene laundry.

The plaintiff claims she was so traumatised by the assaults on her when aged 12 to 15 that, in a desperate effort to stop the groundsman accosting her on her way to and from school, she once hammered her knee with a paperweight to such an extent she was hospitalised and thus avoided going to school for a time.

Her life has been severely affected by her experience, she changed from being a happy normal child who liked school to one who became self-destructive, left school early and developed alcohol, medication and relationship problems, it is claimed.

She felt huge shame and unable to tell anyone for years, has a severe psychological disorder and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is also claimed.

The woman alleges the Sisters of Charity are vicariously liable for severe personal injuries and emotional suffering arising from the assaults of the groundsman alleged to have occurred in a hut and shed in the grounds of the laundry between the years 1977-1980. The man is believed to be dead.

In a pre-trial application to stop the case, the Sisters of Charity argued they are prejudiced defending it on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman. They also said the woman’s claims are subject to a Garda investigation which has not yet concluded as it has not proven possible to estabish if the groundsman had died.

In his reserved judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Max Barrett said, while the 29 year delay bringing the case was inordinate, it was “far from inexcusable” as it seemed this woman had never escaped from the dominion of her alleged abuser.

Her statement of claim, which was not challenged by the Sisters for the purposes of the pre-trial application only, suggested “a sorry picture of a long-suffering woman” who has lived her life in the shadow of what she claimed was repeatedly done to her by the groundsman. There was much material before the court to excuse the delay, he said.

He also considered the balance of justice lay in allowing the case proceed. In reaching that decision, he noted the Sisters have identified one person who knew of a man with the same name as the alleged abuser who worked at the laundry site around the time of the alleged abuse. That was a significant fact, he said.

While the alleged abuser may be dead, his alleged employer remains extant and it would seem contrary to the principles of justice and fairness that the chance of his death should offer the Sisters the chance to escape liability, if such liability arises, he said.

The woman has raised detailed allegations capable of being resolved by a tribunal of fact and, while the case might present difficulties for both sides, he did not perceive those raised a real risk of an unfair trial.

This was not a claim the Sisters could not reasonably be expected to defend, the judge said. “It is in fact the opposite.”