High Court: Garda awarded €195,000 for physical and psychological injuries that forced him into early retirement



The High Court has awarded €195,000 to a Garda with 33 years of experience who suffered persistent physical and psychological harm as a result of an assault that occurred in the course of arresting a member of the public.

The injuries caused him to retire early, and without a special pension after a doctor appointed by the Chief Medical Officer had treated him ‘like a criminal’ when assessing the extent of his injuries.

Background

At approximately 10 pm on 21st September 2005, Mr Peter Maguire was on duty with Garda Dónal Barry in a patrol car in Carrigaline, Co. Cork. Mr Maguire noticed a man, known to him as ‘DOD’, roaring, shouting and making abusive gestures at the Gardaí, and decided to arrest him for public order offences.

‘DOD’ resisted arrest and violently assaulted both officers, striking Mr Maguire a number of times on his chest before throwing him against the patrol car and then to the ground where the struggle between them continued – it ultimately took three other officers to bring the assailant under control.

Justice Barton emphasised that the fact that ‘the assault was not only vicious and violent but was also prolonged’ was of some significance to the issues in this case. Additionally, when the assailant was brought back to Togher Garda Station he continued to make threats of a violent nature against both Mr Maguire and his son, whom he named.

The assailant was charged with a number of public order offences to which he pleaded guilty on 16th December 2005.

The morning after the assault, Mr Maguire awoke with ‘general soreness; he felt exhausted and was aware of pain in his back with radiation into his right hip and down into his right leg’.

The back pain worsened in the succeeding days, however Mr Maguire continued to work, hoping that his symptoms would gradually resolve. When the symptoms persisted, his GP ‘prescribed anti-inflammatories and Valium to relax his muscles’ – however Mr Maguire did not recover. Justice Barton stated that over time, ‘his physical and psychological status deteriorated to a point where he felt compelled to retire’ early at the age of 53.

Mr Maguire contended that all of the consequences were as a result of the assault, and claimed that the Minister for Finance was liable under the Garda (Compensation) Acts 1941 and 1945. At issue between the parties was the element of causation, as well as the extent and nature of the injuries and loss.

Persistent injuries

In the years subsequent to the assault, the Applicant suffered significant episodes of back pain which sometimes flared up to a point where he would have to be certified unfit for work.

Although epidural injections gave him relief, he was advised in 2007 that the deterioration in the degenerative changes seen in successive MRI scans was indicative of a rapidly progressive degenerative change which would likely result in ongoing symptomology requiring further medical intervention.

Although this was likely to affect his capacity to discharge full policing duties, Justice Barton stated that it was clear from his evidence that Mr Maguire ‘was anxious to remain in the force despite the effect which his injuries were having on him’. He was also ‘concerned that the discharge of such duties would expose him to a risk of further physical injury, especially as a result of potential confrontations’.

The ongoing symptomology had a profound psychological affect and also interfered with his recreational pursuits including deep sea fishing. Mr Maguire gradually developed a low esteem of himself and when he experienced flare ups in his symptoms, he experienced increased anxiety and low mood as well as pain – describing ‘the combination of physical and psychological symptoms as taking the whole soul out of him in relation to work, social life, recreational activities and family relationships’ with ‘the poor medical prognosis contributing to feelings of depression’.

His medical situation deteriorated to the point that he was certified unfit for work even for office-based duties on 31st August 2011 and, not having received a response to his application to retire on a special pension, he decided to exercise his entitlement to retire from the force on an ordinary pension on 25th November 2011.

Justice Barton was not satisfied that the medical and vocational evidence warranted a conclusion that Mr Maguire was ‘so disabled by his injuries as to be unable to contemplate or engage in any form of remunerative employment’, however the Court accepted that it was ‘entirely reasonable in the interests of his health that he should seek to retire from the force and that he did so by reason of his continuing injuries’.

Compensation

Justice Barton stated that the Court was required to ‘apply the well settled principles of tort law to the assessment of general compensation’ in respect of Mr Maguire’s injuries which, ‘in the circumstances of this case, require an assessment of compensation to date and compensation into the future’.

Justice Barton added that the purpose of an award of compensation was ‘to put the Applicant into the same position, insofar as that can be done by a money award, which he would have been in but for the wrong committed against him’, and that ‘justice requires that such award must be fair, reasonable and commensurate with the injuries sustained’.

Consequently, having regard to the evidence, to the findings made, and the period of time that elapsed since the date of the assault, Justice Barton considered that a fair and reasonable sum to compensate Mr Maguire was €100,000 (€65,000 in respect of Mr Maguire’s injuries to-date, and €35,000 in respect of the future)

In respect of Special Pecuniary Loss, the Court awarded €62,246 in respect of past loss of earnings; €11,000 for future loss of earnings to age 60; and €21,824.60 for future loss of earnings from age 60 to 65.

In total, the Court made an award of €195,070.60 for the aggregate of the general and special compensation.

  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News