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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Google The University Maternity Hospital in Limerick, where the accident occurred.

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

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

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, Co Limerick, was awarded €377,639.71 in general damages and special damages at a personal injuries assessment hearing, before the High Court in Limerick City, last Friday.

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

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

Corless, represented by Donal Houlihan, Houlihan Solicitors, Limerick, 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.

Giving her judgement, Justice Marguerite Bolger said 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 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 Corless’ period of employment was “too short to lead to any current pension entitlements including on grounds of ill health”.

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 well being,” Justice Bolger noted.

Photographs, submitted by the HSE, which showed 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 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” 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 retraining 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, the assessor accepted under cross examination by counsel for 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 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 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 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 Corless’ injuries complaint to be “genuine”, and she was satisfied Corless’ “significant back pain from which she continues to suffer was triggered by the accident”.