Family of pensioner who choked to death in nursing home awarded €110,000

Court told Sean Cunningham (73) was left alone to feed himself and choked

The family of a pensioner who died after a choking incident in the dining room of a nursing home has secured €110,000 under a settlement of their High Court action.

Sean Cunningham (73), who suffered from dementia, was left alone to feed himself and choked to death, Mr Justice Kevin Cross was told.

Mr Cunningham, a father of five and grandfather to nine, who was residing at St Gabriel's Nursing Home (SGNH), Raheny, Dublin, was known to have difficulty eating, his counsel Paul Burns SC said.

Mr Cunningham's son John, of Park Lawn, Clontarf, Dublin, had sued SGNH Ltd, with offices at Warrington Place, Dublin, the owners of St Gabriel's Nursing Home, Raheny as a result of his father's death on December 16th, 2014.


It was claimed Mr Cunningham, who had been in the nursing home since August 2014, was wheeled into the dining room at around 5pm on December 16th 2014.

It was claimed he was left alone to feed himself and no staff member was present in the section of the room where he was seated, which was separated from the front section by a wall.

Ten minutes later, a staff member heard a noise and discovered Mr Cunningham apparently choking and raised the alarm.

Various attempts were made to clear Mr Cunnignham’s airway and CPR was also commenced but he died shortly after admission to hospital.

It was claimed there was failure to have any adequate care plan or any nutrition plan to address Mr Cunningham’s known risk of choking, failure to ensure his meals were supervised and he was assisted in eating and failure to communicate Mr Cunnignham’s risk of choking to all staff members having contact with him.

Mr Justice Cross was told liability had been admitted in the case.

Approving the settlement, the judge said he hoped it would bring some comfort to Mr Cunnignham’s family.

An inquest last year into the death of Mr Cunningham heard the pensioner suffered from dementia, with short-term memory problems, following a brain tumour.

Mr Cunningham was admitted to Beaumont Hospital in April 2014 after he went missing and was later found in Galway. He had previously gone missing for two days while on holiday in Madrid.

The family were finding it increasingly difficult to care for him and he was admitted to the nursing home after Beaumont Hospital, Dublin Coroner’s court heard.

A postmortem found the cause of death was cardio-respiratory arrest due to an episode of choking on food.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of misadventure. The coroner noted the importance of documentation and communication between staff and recommended full handover is given and all observations are followed up in a health care setting.

The coroner also affirmed the recommendations of an internal review conducted at the nursing home which included new dining room protocols regarding meal time supervision and a new emergency alert system.