A 22 year old woman, who contracted a rare disease while working in a Limerick pet shop, has been awarded what is believed to be the highest ever structured compensation settlement in a High Court personal injuries action.
Patricia Ingle from Weston, County Limerick, worked throughout 2007 and 2008 at the Petmania Pet Store in the Jetlands Retail Park, County Limerick. In August 2008, she fell ill with violent headaches and vomiting, was attended by a doctor and sent to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Dooradoyle.
Doctors at the hospital treated Patricia and sent her home, but a few weeks later the symptoms returned and she was again sent to hospital by her GP. Within two days, Patricia´s condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she was technically voiceless, had difficulty swallowing, suffered from blurred vision and could not move.
Patricia had suffered irreversible brain damage and can now only breathe through a ventilator, has to be fed via a tube and can only communicate by using a voice-box. She is confined to a wheelchair and is an inpatient each night at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital.
Claiming that she had contracted the chlamydia psittacosis infection from a cockatiel parrot purchased by the pet store, Patricia sued Petmania and their parent company O’Keeffes of Kilkenny Limited, Springhill, County Kilkenny. She also alleged that her condition had been mismanaged by the hospital, and claimed that, had doctors recognised that she needed an examination by a neurologist, she could have been transferred to Cork Hospital earlier for specialist treatment.
Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill at the High Court heard how chlamydia psittacosis can be passed from parrots to humans through inhalation of airborne dried faeces dust, and that Patricia had never received any health and safety training throughout her employment at Petmania.
He also heard expert testimony to state that the single most significant risk of working in a pet store was the risk of contracting an infectious disease, yet because of the animals´ low value, pets at Petmania were never screened or treated against the potentially fatal diseases.
In respect of the action against the Health Service Executive (HSE), the court heard that doctors at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital had watched Patricia´s condition deteriorate for 58 hours before transferring her to Cork Hospital, even though they were aware that she worked in a pet shop due to a previous hospital attendance when she was bitten by a rat.
It was claimed that had there been a proper recognition of her symptoms, some, if not all of her current condition would have been avoided.
Although the case was anticipated to last for several weeks, protracted talks on the fourth day of court proceedings resulted in the HSE agreeing to settle the claim, and pursuing Patricia´s claims against the other defendants.
The settlement package consists of 3 million Euros to be paid to Patricia immediately in respect of her injuries, with further lifetime payments to be considered in two years time once new legislation is in place to facilitate structured payments.
The health Service Executive have estimated that it currently costs around 500,000 Euros to provide Patricia with the treatment she needs, so the total compensation package is likely to exceed the record High Court award of 7.5 million Euros paid to a child who sustained cerebral palsy at birth.