Damages for man whose wife drove off Galway pier

A woman who drove off a pier in Co Galway, killing herself and her two children, had developed a belief she was terminally ill…

A woman who drove off a pier in Co Galway, killing herself and her two children, had developed a belief she was terminally ill and had infected her children, the High Court heard yesterday.

Mr Roy Palmer, the dead woman's husband and father of the two children, was awarded €110,000 and costs in settlement of his action against the former head of a psychiatric unit where his wife Catherine had been a patient prior to the tragic incident. He is to give the sum to three charities.

The facts of the tragedy were described by Mr James Nugent SC, for the family, during yesterday's brief hearing as having been "truly horrific".

Mrs Catherine Palmer (36) and her daughters Jennifer (9) and Louisa (6) lost their lives at Ballindeereen pier, Co Galway, on March 5th, 2000.

Arising from the incident, Mr Palmer, Maunsells Road, Galway, had sued the Western Health Board and Prof Thomas Fahy, former head of the psychiatric unit at University College Hospital, Galway. Yesterday, the proceedings against the health board were struck out.

Mr Nugent, for Mr Palmer, told Mr Justice Johnson the plaintiff had married his wife, Catherine O'Sullivan, and they had two daughters, Jennifer and Louisa.

In 1999, Catherine developed a belief that she was ill.

Despite tests which found no illness, her belief grew that she had an illness. She believed she was terminally ill, that the illness would give her a horrible death and that she had infected her two children.

Mr Nugent said Mrs Palmer was admitted to a psychiatric unit at the hospital under the care of Prof Fahy. She was kept there for a week. To the consternation of her husband, her own family and her friends who contacted the hospital, she was released. No system was put in place for monitoring her condition and how she progressed.

On March 5th, 2000, Mrs Palmer put the two children into a car and then drove at high speed off the pier at Ballindeereen. All three drowned.

Negligence proceedings were instituted against the health board and Prof Fahy. Recently, Prof Fahy had withdrawn his denial of liability. On that basis, the case had been settled in respect of the deaths of Catherine, Jennifer and Louisa and also Mr Palmer's personal injuries case.

The case against the board could be struck out with no order.

Approving the settlement, the judge said it was a particularly tragic and sad situation. He was sure it was of great relief to everybody that the case had been settled.

In a statement issued afterwards on behalf of the families of Catherine and Roy Palmer, it was stated that within her last year, Catherine was physically unwell and, in her last months, that had affected her mental condition.

The families added that in addition to their grief, family and friends had had a long struggle to make known what led to the deaths. It was unacceptable there was no mandatory full inquiry into such deaths.

"We believe that a public understanding of their circumstances would aid other individuals and families in the future," the statement said.

"This case was taken for the memory of Catherine, Jennifer and Louisa.

"All damages awarded will be donated to charities for mental health, women's health and children's care."