Paramedic suffered ‘survivor’s guilt’ after colleague’s death

PJ Cahill suing HSE after seeing man fall from moving ambulance

PJ Cahill, a paramedic from Kilnagarbet, Stradone, Co Cavan outside  the Four Courts for the second day of his High Court action for damages. Photograph: Collins Courts

PJ Cahill, a paramedic from Kilnagarbet, Stradone, Co Cavan outside the Four Courts for the second day of his High Court action for damages. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

A paramedic who has sued for nervous shock after witnessing the death of his colleague who fell out of an ambulance has told the High Court he suffered survivor’s guilt afterwards.

“The survivor’s guilt was hitting me all the time. I felt it was a never ending thing. I was on a merry go around I could not get off,” PJ Cahill said.

The incident “should never have happened”, he said.

“You are working for a caring professional service and end up falling out of an ambulance dying on the side of the road.”

Mr Cahill’s action centres on claims the ambulance featured a side door which opened against the direction of travel.  It is alleged there was failure to ensure a motion lock was fitted to the door to ensure it could not be opened while the ambulance was moving.

Mr Cahill (50), Kilnagarbet, Stradone, Co Cavan has sued his employers, the HSE, and the German manufacturer of the ambulance, Wietmarscher Ambulanz Und Sonderf Ahrzeug GMBH. Both defendants deny the claims against them.

In evidence, Mr Cahill said he was driving the ambulance on the N3 Cavan to Dublin Road in June 2010 when he heard a thud. He looked in the mirror and saw his friend Simon Sexton, a 43-year-old father of six, hit the ground.

He jammed on the brakes and ran back to find Mr Sexton lying face down near the grassy verge, he said.

Three years ago, the HSE was fined €500,000 for health and safety breaches as a result of Mr Sexton’s death.

The court has been told Mr Sexton had seen a crack of light at the top of the side door and went to secure it as the ambulance was moving. 

The side door did not open in the direction of forward travel and that was the immediate cause of the death of Mr Sexton, Franka Callanan SC, for Mr Cahill, said.  There was a previous accident in 2007 in Kerry with an ambulance from the same batch with a similarly fitted door, he added.

In evidence on Thursday,  Mr Cahill said the then chief execuutive of the HSE, Brendan Drumm, sympathised with him at Mr Sexton’s funeral.

“We had a chat and afterwards we shook hands and he said you have my number and if there is anything you ever want.  He said don’t ever be at a loss after this.”

Mr Cahill broke down when saying, having used up his entitlement of sick days after the accident, he was two years later docked a day’s pay when off sick for a day with a cold. “I asked to be reimbursed and was told that could not be done.”

At that stage, he went to a solicitor, he said. The HSE later told his solcitor the extension of the sick pay scheme given to him after the accident could only be a one off.

Mr Cahill said he was offered alternative work in an ambulance control room which would be high pressure dealing with members of the public ringing in.

Mr Sexton’s widow Catherine sought him out at the funeral, he also said. “She put her arms around me and said it was not my fault.”

The case before Mr Justice Fullam continues on Friday.