Couple awarded €2m for 'life-altering injuries' after exposure to foam insulation chemicals

The family has since become incredibly sensitised to certain products and "now live in a bubble".
Couple awarded €2m for 'life-altering injuries' after exposure to foam insulation chemicals

Patrick Duffy (pictured here in October) and his wife Anita had sued claiming they were exposed to fumes and toxic chemicals and they and their young daughter had to leave the dream home they had built near the sea in Donegal because they did not feel safe there. Photo: Collins Courts

A couple who sued claiming they were exposed to toxic chemicals after spray foam insulation was installed in their home have been awarded just over €2 million by a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross said he had come to the conclusion beyond any doubt whatsoever that Patrick and Anita Duffy sustained “their life-altering serious injuries as a result of exposure to chemicals.” The probable cause, the judge further found, was the foam that had been injected into the roof.

The injuries to the Duffys, Mr Justice Cross found, were caused beyond a reasonable doubt by the exposure to the product as sprayed by the insulation installers.

On the balance of probabilities, the judge found that due to the nature and extent of the Duffys’ injuries it was due to exposure to Isocyanate.

The judge found the insulation foam product itself is “essentially safe” if properly applied with the proper safeguards.

But he found the installer was negligent in failing to advise the Duffys they were required to be out of the house during the spraying and for at least two hours afterwards, and in failing to communicate with them the potential risks and hazards involved in the product if the safeguards were not adhered to.

Patrick Duffy and his wife Anita had sued claiming they were exposed to fumes and toxic chemicals and they and their young daughter had to leave the dream home they had built near the sea in Donegal because they did not feel safe there. 

The family now live in a mobile home. Mr Duffy told the court all three in the family became incredibly sensitised to certain products since and “now live in a bubble".

The Duffys paid €4000 to have the insulation installed in their home four years ago.

Patrick and Anita Duffy, 45, of Meenderryowern, Annagry, Co. Donegal, had sued Brendan McGee trading as McGee Insulation Services, Largenreach, Downings, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, who was responsible for the installation and the application of spray foam insulation at the family home on February 18, 2016.

They had also sued GMS Insulations Ltd, Legga, Moyne, Co. Longford, which imports and supplies spray foam insulation material.

Mr Justice Cross had previously granted an application to dismiss the case against GMS Insulations Ltd on the basis there was no evidence against GMS.

In his judgement today, Mr Justice Cross found Mr and Mrs Duffy were not at any stage appraised that their absence from the house was required as a matter of personal safety for themselves and their daughter.

“I have no doubt whatsoever had they been so appraised that Mrs Duffy would have left the house with her daughter before the spraying commenced and none of the Duffys would have returned until they were assured it was safe to do so,” the judge said.

Mr Justice Cross commented that Mr McGee’s recollection of the entire event “is less than accurate” but the judge fully accepted that Mr McGee believes at this stage that he did tell the Duffys they should not be in the property during the spraying and for two hours afterwards. 

The judge also accepted that this is Mr McGee’s usual practice. Mr McGee he said was the local supplier of Icynene.

Mr McGee, the judge found, was “clearly negligent in a number of matters“. He accepted Mr McGee was an installer with great experience who clearly believed in his product and its general safety. 

However, he found this general belief seems to have resulted in “an extremely lax approach to the necessary safeguards.” Mr Justice Cross found Mr McGee was negligent in that he failed to advise the Duffys they were required to be out of the house during the spraying and for at least two hours afterwards. 

He also failed to communicate with the Duffys as to the potential risks and hazards involved in the product if the safeguards were not adhered to.

The judge said “most importantly” he found Mr McGee was negligent in relation to the air extraction and ventilation of the property.

Mrs Duffy and her daughter, the judge said, were allowed to remain on the property while the workers were spraying in contravention of all safety requirements and the two of them were allowed that night to sleep in a bedroom without any natural ventilation.

The judge said he did not find the breaches were in any way “irrelevant to the events“ or could be excused by Mr McGee’s claim that he wasn't good on paperwork. The judge said there are clear obligations on Mr McGee to properly advise the Duffys as to the risks in relation to the product and also what they must do in order to ensure their own safety.

The Duffys, he said, were entirely truthful witnesses who did not exaggerate their complaints.

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