A case taken against the State by a former maintenance worker who claims his illnesses were caused by his exposure to chemicals while in the Air Corps has been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.
The case saw legal representatives acting on behalf of former Air Corps member Ian Coughlan at odds with the State as to when Mr Coughlan was first aware that his medical complaints may have been connected to his exposure to chemicals in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
Mr Coughlan has suffered or continues to experience skin rashes, sleep disturbance, fatigue, mood changes, occasional bloody diarrhoea, skin and eye discolouration, and short-term memory loss. He began proceedings against the State in 2013.
His personal injury summons against the State alleged 24 instances of negligence and breach of duty. He alleged the Air Corps failed to provide him with a safe system of work, appropriate training for the safe handling of the chemicals he was required to work with, and that proper safety measures to protect him from the ill- effects of the chemicals were not implemented.
Mr Coughlan brought his legal challenge within months of receiving the opinion of toxicopathologist professor Vyvyan Howard, who said he believed his ongoing medical complaints were as a direct result of his exposure to chemicals while working in Casement Aerodrome.
However, the State argued Mr Coughlan’s claim was statute barred as he was aware of a potential connection more than two years before he commenced legal action. It said discussions in medical examinations around Mr Coughlan’s handling of chemicals while he was serving in the Air Corps meant he possessed the requisite knowledge to bring a case between 2007 and 2009 — at least four years before he began legal action.
However, in a sworn affidavit, Mr Coughlan said at no time during that period was he advised his symptoms and illnesses were related to his working environment.
He said he had concerns about his exposure to chemicals, and raised these with various medical personnel, but that he was reassured there was no connection.
“If I had, in fact, believed that my ongoing symptoms related to chemical exposure I would not have continued to work in such an environment,” Mr Coughlan said.
However, in his unapproved judgment, Mr Justice Charles Meenan referred to a 2009 report by clinical toxicologist David Wood, who said Mr Coughlan’s exposure to elevated levels of dichloromethane could explain his rashes.
Mr Justice Meenan said Mr Coughlan should therefore have brought the case against the State by 2011 at the latest. Mr Coughlan had argued Dr Wood’s opinion was “limited” by a lack of information about the chemicals used in Baldonnel, and it was only upon receiving Mr Howard’s report in 2013 that he was fully aware of a potential connection between that and his illnesses.