Intellectually disabled teen receives damages for trauma caused by dishwasher fire

The High Court has awarded a teenage boy €51,244.56 in damages, after a fire in his home caused by a Hotpoint dishwasher caused him trauma, anxiety and distress.

The plaintiff was acknowledged by the court to have been diagnosed with mild intellectual disabilities, resulting in him requiring a special needs assistant and resource hours when in school.

The plaintiff also suffers from asthma, which had historically flared up on three occasions, requiring hospital admission.

The Court noted that the plaintiff had been described as fearful, shy and sensitive, but was unable to make its own assessment as he did not appear before the court. It therefore relied upon the evidence of his parents and the experts retained to examine and report.

The fire in question occurred on the 26th June 2010. The plaintiff and his siblings were in bed when it broke out, and although there was a lot of smoke, the whole family managed to escape. The plaintiff’s father returned to the house to see if the fire could be stopped, an act which was witnessed by the plaintiff.

When the family were able to return to the house, some months later, the plaintiff began to exhibit signs of anxiety, characterised by night terrors, awakening in the night, and checking that all appliances were unplugged in order to reassure himself that the house would not burn down.

He was subsequently diagnosed as suffering post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorder. It was the opinion of Dr Leonia Gravante, a consultant child psychiatrist, that he was more susceptible to these reactions to the fire as a result of his personality and disabilities.

At issue between the plaintiff and the defendant, Indesit Company UK Limited and P.W. Shaw and Company Limited, was whether causation could be established, and whether the plaintiff had suffered any psychological sequelae which could properly be categorised in law as injuries consequent upon the fire.

The defendants had obtained a report from a consultant psychiatrist, Dr McInerney, in which it was claimed that the plaintiff had suffered neither physical nor psychological sequelae as a result of the fire.

However, both Dr Gravante, and Dr Dalton, who subsequently examined the plaintiff, disagreed with this claim.

Dr Dalton noted that the plaintiff’s condition had improved considerably, and that his symptoms were now more residual. However, the trauma had been magnified by the plaintiff’s learning difficulties, and likely slowed down his recover.

When Dr McInerney gave evidence in line with her report, she acknowledged that she had not had sight of the plaintiff’s medical notes, and that not interacted with the plaintiff when she wrote the report, only with his mother.

Ultimately, she accepted that the plaintiff had a psychological reaction at the time to the trauma and that when she said that he didn’t in her report, what she had meant to say by that was that the plaintiff didn’t have any psychological sequalae or injury at the time of her interview with the plaintiff’s mother, as opposed to an earlier point in time.

Delivering its judgment, the Court accepted the evidence of Dr Gravante and Dr Dalton, that the plaintiff had suffered psychological injuries as a result of the fire.

It was noted that his intellectual disabilities made him more vulnerable to the development of psychological sequelae, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder, which was acknowledged as a psychiatric illness.

Further, it was acknowledged that: “The plaintiff’s residual symptoms are now such that he would no longer qualify for diagnosis with obsessive compulsive disorder. He still has some checking habits but these are not nearly as pronounced as they used to be. He has no flashbacks but he does have occasional nightmares and still has a tendency to worry about the possibility of a fire at night time.”

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News
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