Anxiety alone not grounds for damages

Martina Fitzpatrick  v Aldi Stores Ireland Ltd

2 May 2018, Dublin Circuit Court, Judge Terence O’Sullivan

While dropping her daughter’s friend in the car park of Aldi, Gort, Co Galway, in December 2015, the Plaintiff, Martina Fitzpatrick (aged 52) claimed that the car park barrier came down on her car, damaging it. This was not disputed by the Defendant, Aldi Stores Ireland Ltd, who had paid for the material damage to Ms Fitzpatrick ’s vehicle.

Telling the Court she had not come to court to seek some “humongous amount of damages for physical injuries”, the Plaintiff instead noted that she had developed a fear of barriers, often now ducking when driving under them on motorways.

She confirmed had not been physically hurt as a result of the incident.

Dismissing Ms Fitzpatrick’s claim entirely, the Judge indicated that he must apply the law in respect of nervous shock.

Holding that the Plaintiff did not meet the criteria to be awarded damages for a recognised shock-induced psychiatric illness, Judge O’Sullivan applied the five criteria set out by the Supreme Court in Kelly v Hennessey [1995] 3 IR 253, namely:

  1. The Plaintiff must establish that they actually suffered “nervous shock”. This term has been used to describe any recognised psychiatric illness.
  2. The Plaintiff must establish that his or her recognised psychiatric illness was shock Induced.
  3. The Plaintiff must prove that the nervous shock was caused by the Defendant’s act or omission.
  4. The nervous shock sustained by the Plaintiff must be by reason of actual or apprehended physical injury to the Plaintiff or person other than the Plaintiff.
  5. The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed him or her a duty of care not to cause him a reasonably foreseeable injury in the form of nervous shock.

As Ms Fitzpatrick had not satisfied the recognised conditions for nervous shock, and that her anxiety did not come within the recognisable heads of damage which are compensable, Judge O’Sullivan ruled that no award could be made.

Dismissing her claim, the Judge said that the Plaintiff had not established any damage to her, other than being anxious of barriers. He commended Ms Fitzpatrick for her honesty, and made no order as to costs.

28 September 2018

Carrie McDermott