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Court orders man to pay €410,000 to bereaved stepchildren he left alone in family home

Jim Cahill cut his three stepchildren off from all income four years after their mother’s death in a road traffic incident

A man who left his bereaved stepchildren alone in the family home before he “cut them off from all income” has been ordered to pay them €410,000 in damages and legal fees.

Ms Justice Eileen Roberts said the now-adult Tara, Karl and Desmond Seepersad had for some years been without income due under a 2009/2010 settlement agreement they entered into with their estranged stepfather, Jim (John James) Cahill, when they were aged between 17-18 and their early 20s.

Their mother, Brigid Seepersad, died in a road traffic incident while on holiday in 2008.

The High Court judge recently heard Mr Cahill (78) might seek to appeal her October 2023 judgment – in which she awarded general and aggravated damages against him – once she makes final orders in the ongoing case over the dissolution of the parties’ business partnership concerning the operation of a nursing home that was owned by Brigid Seepersad.


Despite certain outstanding matters, Ms Justice Roberts said she was satisfied she should order Mr Cahill to pay the Seepersad siblings about €210,000 damages and give him three months to pay €200,000 for their interim legal fees. She was conscious that his lawsuit against the siblings had been running for more than a decade and their legal team had not been paid for some time.

Last October she found that in late 2012, Mr Cahill, with an address in Rathfeigh, Co Meath, made a “calculated decision, entirely in his own interests” to terminate partnership payments, including for the mortgage on their family home and for their education.

He was by then an experienced businessman – previously the chief executive of Lough Egish Dairy (now Lakeland Dairies) – while the siblings were “grieving, vulnerable and inexperienced, just past their teenage years”, she said.

Ms Justice Roberts said that, unbeknown at the time to the Seepersads and Mr Cahill, Brigid Seepersad had secured a decree of divorce from him two days before her death. They had married in 2002.

She died intestate, leaving behind the family home in Co Meath, which still had a mortgage; stg£176,000, and a nursing home business, which she had operated with Mr Cahill.

As part of the 2009/2010 settlement agreement, Mr Cahill secured a High Court order in 2012 setting aside the divorce – a step he confirmed was intended to permit him to claim a share in Brigid Seepersad’s estate, the judge said.

The settlement provided that the nursing home company shares would be split 60:40 between Mr Cahill and the siblings, with his share later reducing to 55 per cent. Profits were to be split roughly equally.

Mr Cahill was to be paid €150,000 in recognition of his contribution to the nursing home and a €5,000 monthly salary.

The siblings were to get the family home and the UK funds, while nursing home earnings would pay for their domestic bills and mortgage repayments, plus five years of educational fees. Tara Seepersad was also to receive a €12,000 annual salary for “ongoing work” in the nursing home.

The Seepersads agreed not to oppose Mr Cahill’s application to set aside the divorce, but he said they breached the agreement by later seeking to object.

The Seepersads, represented by Edward Farrelly SC and David Purdue BL, instructed by Shannon O’Connor Solicitors, claimed they endured “enormous and lasting hardship” when in 2012 Mr Cahill “unilaterally” terminated all payments due to them, said Ms Justice Roberts.

The judge did not accept Mr Cahill’s claims that he stopped payments because of financial issues with the business and because he had overpaid them. She also rejected his assertion that their interference with his divorce application justified terminating the payments.

She said Mr Cahill, who has since remarried his first wife, “left the then teenage defendants living alone in the family home, only to cut them off from all income once he had secured the court order he needed to lay claim to the nursing home”. His refusal to erect a headstone for their mother was “callous and cruel”, she added.

By mid-2022, the Seepersads claimed, there was a possibility of their family home being repossessed and they could not pay their electricity and other bills. Mr Cahill accused them of squandering their inheritance.

Ms Justice Roberts said Mr Cahill operated the nursing home as though he was a sole trader, and excluded the Seepersads from any meaningful involvement in the partnership business since at least 2012.

She awarded the Seepersads damages, including aggravated damages for Mr Cahill’s “exceptional and wilful misconduct” in breaching his fiduciary duty to them as his business partners and stepchildren.

After last week making orders for Mr Cahill, represented by O’Connor & Bergin Solicitors, to pay out the damages and the Seepersads’ interim legal fees, the judge adjourned the case to June 10th.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times