Court awards HSE care assistant almost €400,000 after ladder fall at maternity hospital

Aimee O'Donoghue, Houlihan Solicitors, with Geraldine Corless at the High Court, Merchants Quay. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

A LIMERICK care assistant who sued the HSE after suffering injuries in a fall from a ladder at University Maternity Hospital Limerick seven years ago has been awarded almost €400,000 in damages.

Geraldine Corless, from Annacotty in County Limerick, was awarded €377,639.71 in general and special damages at a personal injuries assessment hearing before the High Court in Limerick City on Friday last (November 10).

Ms Corless (63) was on duty at the hospital on January 10, 2016, when she fell while descending a ladder she had used to retrieve toiletry supplies from a height.

She sustained injuries to her back, chest, shoulder, and ankle, which left her unfit for work thereafter.

Ms Corless, represented by Donal Houlihan of Houlihan Solicitors, attended her GP regularly, engaged in physiotherapy sessions, yoga classes, and took high doses of pain medication and pain injections. She had also been prescribed anti-depressant medication and participated in counseling sessions to try to cope with not being able to engage in physical work.

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Giving her judgement, Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger said Ms Corless continues to suffer “severe and debilitating back pain” rendering her unable to work.

The judge said the HSE’s own occupational health doctors deemed Ms Corless “unfit” after the accident and in 2021 certified she was “permanently unfit and recommended for early retirement on grounds of ill-health”.

The judge said Ms Corless’ period of employment was “too short to lead to any current pension entitlements including on grounds of ill-health”.

Ms Corless remains a HSE employee, but she has not received any payments since the cessation of her sick pay, and her “only current source of income is her social welfare widow’s pension, of which she had already been in receipt prior to her accident”, the judge said.

“The situation has clearly taken a toll on her physical and psychological wellbeing,” Justice Bolger noted.

Photographs, submitted by the HSE, which showed Ms Corless driving, opening the boot of her car, carrying shopping and joining people socially, was “not evidence to suggest anything that was inconsistent” with medical evidence of her injuries, said the judge.

Justice Bolger said the HSE had argued Ms Corless “could and should have sought alternative part-time light, sedentary work”, but she dismissed this.

The judge said the court had heard evidence previously from the defendant’s vocational assessor who had “criticised” Ms Corless “for not seeking out such alternative employment, and described her as having ceased employment by choice, and found her to have no level of motivation to return to the workforce”.

The judge said the HSE’s assessor had also informed the court of extensive rehabilitation and retaining programmes which the HSE has in place to enable their employees to return to light duties, and he “condemned the plaintiff for not having availed of those options”.

Justice Bolger added that the assessor accepted under cross examination by counsel for Ms Corless, Padraig McCartin SC and Gerry Tynan SC, instructed by Shelia Finn BL, “that he was unaware of the fact that the plaintiff had sought to return to light duties in a meeting with the Assistant Director of Nursing in November 2019 and was informed at that meeting, and later by letter, that her request to do so could not be accommodated”.

The judge added she was surprised the HSE’s assessor “was also unaware” the HSE’s occupational doctors had certified Ms Corless as “unfit for work”.

The judge added that the HSE assessor also “accepted on cross examination that, in the light of those matters, his judgement of the plaintiff lacking motivation was ‘perhaps incorrect'”.

“I am satisfied that the plaintiff behaved responsibly and proactively in trying to get back to work, and is not to be blamed for her failure to take up any paid employment since the accident, she is not guilty of any failure to mitigate her loss of earnings,” the judge said.

Justice Bolger, however, deducted €18,000 in general damages as Ms Corless had initially omitted to inform her own legal team, as well as the defendant, of her unpaid involvement in a dance school operated by members of her family.

The judge said that while the omission was not inconsistent with Ms Corless’ injuries and her inability to work, it was “relevant to assessing the extent to which her injuries have impacted on her enjoyment of her daily life to date and into the future”.

Justice Bolger said doctors for both parties found Ms Corless’ injuries complaint to be “genuine”, and she was satisfied Ms Corless’ “significant back pain from which she continues to suffer was triggered by the accident”.