€69,000 for woman injured when powerboat collided with bridge on Shannon

By Ann O'Loughlin

A young woman has been awarded €69,000 for injuries she received when a powerboat in which she was a passenger collided with a bridge on the River Shannon.

Millie O'Donnell (21), Laburnam Road, Clonskeagh, Dublin, sued the driver of the boat, Richard Coffey (24), Merrion Park, South Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin, over the incident on July 14, 2012.

She also sued the boat owner, Brian Corcoran, of Lecarrow, Co Roscommon.

Ms O'Donnell was 16 years old at the time and was aboard a 40 horse power rigid inflatable boat (Rib) which hit a pillar of the rail bridge at Marine View, Athlone. She was knocked unconscious in the collision and suffered a bleed to her brain.

Millie O'Donnell. Picture: Collins

Mr Coffey denied negligence while Mr Corcoran denied he was vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of Mr Coffey.

In the High Court today, Mr Justice Michael Hanna awarded Ms O'Donnell €60,000 in general damages after noting she had made a full recovery but could suffer neuro-psychological problems in the future. He further awarded €9,319 in agreed special damages.

The award was against both defendants.

The court heard Richard Coffey, in a statement to gardaí after the incident, said as he approached the bridge he was surprised by a mooring buoy in the water. He tried to miss it but in an effort to correct the boat he hit the pillar.

Rob Corcoran, the son of the Rib owner Brian Corcoran, in his statement to gardaí, said he gave the keys of the boat to Mr Coffey to make a trip on the river with Ms O'Donnell and two others, because he (Rob) "had had a few drinks". Although Mr Coffey had had some drink, "he was fine", Mr Corcoran also said.

Mr justice Hanna was satisfied Mr Coffey, who had said he drank three bottles of beer that evening, was intoxicated and he should never have been given the keys.

He noted a marine expert had given evidence of a litany of safety breaches by Mr Coffey, who is a trained sailing instructor. These included having taken alcohol, approaching the bridge in the wrong channel, and inadequate lighting when it was almost dark.

Mr Coffey had also not worn a life jacket and nor had another passenger who fell into the water and had to be rescued. Ms O'Donnell and the fourth person aboard were wearing life jackets.

The judge said a garda had also given evidence of having spoken to Mr Coffey earlier that evening following a disturbance involving young people at the marina where there had been a boat party.

He said both Mr Corcoran and his son had declined to give evidence in the case, as was their right.

However, in the absence of that direct evidence, it was clear from the Rob Corcoran statement to gardaí, made three weeks after the accidents, that he (Rob) was aware, among other things, of the fact the Rib was owned and insured by his father and that Mr Coffey had taken drink.

He was satisfied that what occurred gave rise to a foreseeable risk of injury.

The judge said Ms O'Donnell had spent nine days in hospital in a neck brace.

Her consultant said she had made a full recovery and she had returned to play hockey both for Leinster and at an international level, as she had done at the time of the accident. She is now a student in UCD.

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