Cork woman awarded €87k for post-traumatic stress after seeing partly decapitated crash victim

Cork woman awarded €87k for post-traumatic stress after seeing partly decapitated crash victim

A woman has been awarded more than €87,000 by the High Court for post traumatic stress disorder after she saw the partly decapitated body of a motorist involved in a crash with a bus.

Lisa Sheehan (36), a married mother of two from Banteer in north Cork, sued Bus Éireann and FBD insurance which provided cover for the deceased motorist.

Mr Justice David Keane, today awarded her €87,238 after finding she developed moderately severe post traumatic stress disorder and had to give up her job as a hairdresser two years later on the basis she felt unable to continue.

She suffered nightmares and flashbacks, her condition placed great strain on her relationships and she continues to have counselling and medication, he said.

She claimed those injuries were the result of the negligent operation or control of both the bus and the car. 

Bus Eireann denied negligence while FBD admitted the accident was caused by the negligence of the deceased car driver.

Both defendants argued her psychiatric injuries did not give rise to any cause of action recognised by the law and they did not owe her a duty of care.

Mr Justice Keane said on the night of the accident, January 28, 2017, Ms Sheehan was driving home from work in Cork city on what was a dark winter evening.

Near Mallow in Cork some debris struck her car causing her to halt. 

She got out to investigate and saw the damaged bus and the severely damaged car which had hit it a short distance away.

She ran to the car where she glimpsed "a badly disfigured and partly decapitated body" which she initially thought looked like a child but was the adult driver of the car, the judge said.

Although in shock, she called the emergency services and started searching the surrounding area for others who might have been thrown from the car, but there were none.

She later saw the bus driver whose face was covered in blood.

Three days after the accident, she went to her GP after suffering a panic attack at work. She was tearful and agitated and reported that she could not get the images of the accident out of her mind.

She was prescribed antidepressants, given counselling and was out of work for the next five weeks with further intermittent absences due to acute anxiety.

She was referred to a psychiatrist as she continued to suffer, including flashbacks and nightmares, and gave up her job in February 2019.

Her psychiatrist is hopeful that in time she will make a full recovery subject to a 25 per cent chance of further depression or stress-related conditions.

Mr Justice Keane said the defendants argued Ms Sheehan was merely a secondary victim of the accident and even if she could establish her psychiatric illness was reasonably foreseeable as a result of negligence, she cannot bring herself within a restricted category of such victims as defined by previous case law in the UK.

They also argued she had no ties with the driver who died, only "came upon" the accident and did not see the actual collision.

The judge said the law on primary/secondary victims is far from settled in this jurisdiction.

And while, in his view nothing turned on that division in this case, he was satisfied Ms Sheehan was a primary victim as her car had been struck by debris from the crash.

She was in the area of risk of foreseeable physical injury and he was satisfied she was a participant in the accident, albeit one on the periphery of it.

The defendants also accepted she was a rescuer having searched the area in the darkness in the immediate aftermath. 

She was exposed to danger "through her selfless and civic-spirited actions", the judge said.

He also rejected the defendants' argument that the duty of care to Ms Sheehan was negated simply because the primary victim (the driver who hit the bus), whose self-inflicted injuries caused the shock leading to her psychiatric injury, is deceased.

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