A young woman with significant disabilities was verbally abused while being told to take medication at a residential care facility and she was awarded €32,500 in compensation at a remote hearing of the High Court from Cork.
Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon made an order prohibiting the publication of any details that would identify the plaintiff and on this basis the residential institution where the verbal abuse occurred is not identified.
The action was taken by a sister of the 33-year-old woman who has significant disabilities.
Speaking afterward at the courthouse on Washington Street, Cork, she said, “It was a very stressful situation. You have to trust the service and you have to trust the people who are looking after your sister. We hope that every day they are looking after her and not abusing her verbally or physically. It is her home at the end of the day.
“She was 24 when she went into the service. She has a beautiful home now where the staff are wonderful to her. It is the one person that has tarnished the place.
“She is our world, she is our everything. Our mom passed away and (plaintiff’s name) had to use the service. She is our world. If it happens to (name) it happens to all of us.
“In the end of the day it is not about the money, it is about someone taking accountability and owning up to it – people should not be employed in a place where they are working with vulnerable people, it is about safeguarding, protecting people. It could be about any person with a disability or any illness. It shouldn’t be happening and it needs to change.”
Eoin Clifford senior counsel instructed by Carrie McDermott solicitor indicated to Ms Justice O’Hanlon that the risks of running the case had been explained to the plaintiff’s sister. The judge then asked the plaintiff’s sister if she felt the settlement offer of €32,500 was enough.
She replied, “Personally, I don’t feel it is. She is still living in trauma. She can still feel the negativity. She is getting great care but she is carrying the scars, emotionally and physically.”
The judge adjourned very briefly and when she returned the plaintiff’s sister said, “I accept the offer.” The judge said, “I think you are very very wise.”
Ms Justice O’Hanlon noted the 33-year-old plaintiff had been in care for a considerable number of years and had significant disabilities.
The main incident complained of in the case was verbal abuse on Christmas Eve 2015. The judge said, “She was being forced to take medication and bad language was used. This left her with significant upset, given her profound disability and the fact she was already grieving the loss of (her mother).”
The upset manifested itself in verbal vocalisations and increased hand-biting, the judge said.
“She was very distressed at being verbally abused. The type and level of the abuse would cause anyone to be distressed and anxious including a person with a mental disability. It contributed to her feeling unsettled at times,” the judge said.
Ms Justice O’Hanlon said the December 24 2015 verbal abuse was the main item complained of in the pleadings.