Purcell vs Long IEHC 385 (High Court, Barr , May 15th, 2015)
Damages awarded for depression caused by hearing of the death of a son in a RTA
A recent judgement has been passed in the High Court, on 15th May 2015 in favour of Ms Sandra Purcell, in the Case of Purcell v Long. She was awarded the amount of €225,150. The award was granted by Judge J. Barr to Ms Purcell, a mother who upon hearing of the tragic death of her son in a Road Traffic Accident, suffered a bout of severe depression, triggered by this acute stress reaction of her son’s death.
The RTA occurred on 26th October 2009, when Ms Purcell’s son, Leigh Salkeld was fatally injured, while on his way to Cork Airport to enjoy a holiday with his girlfriend and friends. Mr Salkeld joined his mother in Waterford in 2007 (where she moved to live with her new husband). He established himself with a job as a security guard and subsequently met his girlfriend and the mother of his child.
On the night of the accident, the vehicle which Mr Anthony Long (the defendant in the case) was travelling in, was caused to travel on the wrong side of the road leading to a severe impact between the two vehicles. Mr Salkeld and another male passenger were fatally injured in the accident.
Upon hearing of the tragic death of her son, Ms Purcell was profoundly shocked and found herself unable to concentrate on what was going on around her. She could not face the thoughts of having to go and see her son in hospital. To this day, Ms Purcell has never recovered from the shock. Her marriage subsequently broke down and she felt suicidal, making attempts to take her own life by cutting her wrists on a number of occasions.
Following the news of the accident, Ms Purcell returned to England to be cared for by her closest relatives, as due to her trauma, she was unable to take care of herself in her vulnerable state. She did however return to Ireland in 2010 to be able to spend time with her much treasured granddaughter. At this time she was on extensive medication.
Ms Purcell did accept that she had previous psychiatric issues prior to her son’s accident, and was treated by a psychiatrist in the early 1990’s. Evidence was given for the plaintiff by Dr Mairead O’Leary (a consultant psychiatrist) who met with Ms Purcell on 2 occasions, 19th November 2012 (when a medical report was completed) and over the telephone in January 2015..
Dr O’Leary found that Ms Purcell suffered from an acute stress reaction and became detached from reality. She couldn’t engage with the pain of grief and harmed herself on a number of occasions. She was prescribed antidepressants and bipolar medication and also given anti-psychotic medication to augment the antidepressants.
Dr O’Leary was of the view that past psychiatric history would render the plaintiff vulnerable to depression, but she was not on ongoing medication prior to her son’s accident. She emphasised that the depression was much greater after the accident than it was before. Dr O’Leary continued that Ms Purcell would always be on medication for the rest of her life and would be ‘’unable to get back to her premorbid position’’ Ms Purcell also lost her ability to maintain relationships and there was great concern expressed for her long-term future.
Ms Purcell had a pre-disposition to psychological illness due to her father’s history of bi-polar disorder and abusive actions towards her mother, as well as the premature deaths of both of her parents and her brother. However, her pre-accident depression was considered to be mild in nature. Currently Ms Purcell is able to do 6 hours of volunteer work per week.
The consultant psychiatrist for the defence in this case argued that Ms Purcell would have remained liable to depression even without her son’s accident, due to her previous mental history and her childhood and early adolescent experiences.
However, taking both sides of argument into account Mr Justice Long was satisfied that Ms Purcell had suffered a severe depression as a result of discovering her son’s death and commented on the long term effects upon her ability to work and to conduct relationships. He therefore awarded her general damages of €125,000, general damages for the future of €100,000 and special damages of €150, totalling to €225,150.