Judge: Anxiety is not enough to be awarded damages

A Clare woman, who claimed she had developed a fear of road and car park barriers since her car was hit by one, was told yesterday that she could not be awarded damages just for anxiety.

A personal injuries claim for up to €60,000 damages against Aldi was dismissed by Judge Terence O’Sullivan who said in the Circuit Civil Court that he found Martina Fitzpatrick, aged 52, of Toormore, Ruan, Ennis, accurate and honest about a claim she unfortunately had been unable to stand up in court.

Ms Fitzpatrick had told the court that in December 2015 she was dropping a friend of her daughter at an Aldi carpark in Gort, Co Galway, when the entrance barrier came down on the roof, windscreen and bonnet of her car, which had since been repaired by the supermarket.

She told barrister Niamh O’Dounabhain, for Aldi, that she had not come to court to seek enormous damages for physical injuries. She had not been physically hurt but it had been suggested she had been speeding into the car park, which she was not, and she wanted the truth to come out.

Ms O’Dounabhain said Ms Fitzpatrick in her civil bill had initially alleged a back injury had been exacerbated by the incident.

While the plaintiff had fairly stated in evidence that she had no physical injury Aldi was asking that the case dismissed with an award of costs in their favour.

Ms Fitzpatrick, who represented herself in court, said she had developed a fear of barriers and often ducked when driving through them on motorways. She had developed an anxiety about them.

Ms O’Dounabhain said Aldi had conceded liability in the case and had promptly paid for the repair of Ms Fitzpatrick’s car.

In her letter of claim to Aldi, Ms Fitzpatrick had not made any claim of physical or psychological injury.

Judge O’Sullivan said Ms Fitzpatrick had alleged in her civil bill that a back complaint had been exacerbated by the falling barrier but had stated on at least three occasions in the witness box that she had not suffered any physical injury.

She had complained of trauma and was now anxious about going under barriers and had to be commended for her honesty.

“She now is anxious around the issue of barriers but the law is clear as summarised by the then Chief Justice (Liam) Hamilton who had held that a plaintiff must establish that he or she had suffered a recognisable psychiatric illness as a result of an incident,” Judge O’Sullivan said. He said anxiety as such was not actionable and damages could not be awarded for anxiety.

“Unfortunately she does not come within the recognisable head of damage which is compensatable in law and her anxiety cannot be compensated by me on the basis of what I have heard.

“This is an action for damages and she must establish damage and she has not.”

Judge O’Sullivan dismissed her claim and said that in the circumstances he would not award costs for or against either party.

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