The High Court has awarded €33,000 damages to a woman who developed nervous shock after witnessing a murder at the garage where she worked.
The award was made to Theresa Quinn (35), formerly of Killeely, Limerick, who took a case against Topaz Energy Group Ltd claiming aggravated psychological injuries arising out of trauma she suffered after witnessing the man being shot in the head in February 2010. The victim had been in conversation with Ms Quinn at the time.
John Coughlan (33), of Pineview Gardens, Moyross, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Daniel Treacy (35) at the Topaz garage in Caherdavin, Limerick on February 22nd, 2010.
In a judgment, Ms Justice Emily Egan found that Topaz had acted negligently and in breach of its statutory duty of care by failing to implement its health and safety procedures and measures by failing to provide Ms Quinn with a mobile panic alarm.
She also found that Ms Quinn’s PTSD was “aggravated” due to Topaz’s neligence for the first year to 18 months after the incident. However, she noted that Topaz had been supportive of Ms Quinn during her time off and when she returned to work around six months after the incident at a different Limerick filling station.
Ms Justice Egan said the woman continues to experience residual symptoms a decade on from the incident and this is a “significant limitation” on her life. The woman is agoraphobic and unable to go to the shops alone, and it is accepted that she is vulnerable to relapse in the future, said the judge.
Ms Justice Egan noted that Mr Teacy, the bread delivery man, was known to Ms Quinn. She said Ms Quinn's colleague vaulted over the counter and left the shop seemingly without activating the panic alarm at his station. Ms Quinn said she was left alone with the assailant, noted the judge, and she could not activate the panic alarm at the till area.
Ms Quinn said she crawled to the cloakroom to access her phone and she heard more shots being fired in the shop, according to the judgment. She said she rang an emergency operator and was afraid the shooter would hear her. She said she repeatedly attempted to mute her phone and she hung up incoming calls from the emergency operator, said the judge.
Ms Quinn said she was afraid the man would find hear the phone and kill her, and she stated in her evidence: “I thought I was going to die”, the judge noted.
Topaz defended the proceedings.
It was not in dispute that it was Topaz’s policy that employees should wear portable panic alarms, but Topaz maintained that Ms Quinn should have known she should be wearing one and is responsible for any consequences for not having done so, the judge said. Ms Quinn said she had never at any stage been given a panic alarm.
Ms Justice Egan found there was no evidence of staff training on panic alarms and it was “unreasonable” for the defendant to suggest Ms Quinn should have, without prior instruction or permission, taken it upon herself to search for a portable panic alarm in the manager’s office.
Ms Justice Egan found it is a common case that Ms Quinn would have developed PTSD in any event. However, she said the medical evidence says a panic alarm would have resulted in less serious injuries.
Ms Quinn underwent “reasonably extensive treatment”, but it is not apparent that she underwent any in the last several years, the judge went on. This makes it difficult to determine the extent to which the woman’s present and long-term conditions are attributable to actionable aggravation to the original PTSD injury, she said.
In assessing compensation of €33,000, of which €3,000 are special damages, Ms Justice Egan noted that the application predates the new personal injuries guidelines, which are intended to reduce damages awards. Were the plaintiff to be compensated for the “total” psychiatric injuries she has suffered to date and will endure into the future, the judge would have assessed general damages at the level of €100,000.
Ms Justice Egan said she has made no finding that all staff member in every service station, less every in every retail premises, ought to have a portable alarm. She also made no finding that in the event of another security incident an employee will recover damages merely because they can point to measures in their employer’s health and safety statements that were not implemented.
However, she said that in this case there is a “strong connection” between the particular non-implementation the plaintiff complains of and the aggravation of the injury suffered. This case, she said, turns on its own specific facts.