independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Woman says €25,000 award from council 'a hollow victory'

A KILCUMMIN woman awarded €25,000 in damages following claims that dampness in her council house had contributed to life-threatening bouts of pneumonia has labelled the verdict a hollow victory.

At Tralee Circuit Court last week Bea O'Neill, Ballinamanagh, Kilcummin, had sought €38,000 from Kerry County Council in personal injuries and damage caused to furniture.

The day-long hearing was the culmination of a four-year legal process and a 10-year fight on behalf the Kilcummin mother.

She moved into the house, also at Ballinamanagh, in August 2001 and claimed she had noticed condensation later that year. During the hearing a report from Consultant Engineer William O'Keeffe highlighted damp, mould and condensation at the residence which, in his opinion, had emanated from the floor. He had added that, while there were no problems with ventilation and heating, the house was "not fit" for human habitation.

Dr David Murphy of Cork University Hospital told the court that mould, combined with the fact that Ms O'Neill was a smoker, could be significant contributors to the development of pneumonia.

Ms O'Neill was hospitalised for pneumonia in 2006 and again in 2007 and the judge ruled that the conditions of the house were a "contributory factor" in her illness.

The court heard that letters from Ms O'Neill's GP requesting that she be moved had been sent to the council and several councillors had also requested that she be moved. She was eventually rehoused in 2010.

Kerry County Council denied that there was a problem with the house and claimed that Ms O'Neill's actions and poor household management had caused the damp and mould. A subsequent tenant reported no problems at the residence.

Judge Thomas O'Donnell eventually found in Ms O'Neill's favour and awarded €25,000 plus costs but speaking to The Kerryman this week, the emotional stay-at-home mother said she will have to keep fighting following news that Kerry County Council is to appeal the decision.

"I'm still fighting, I haven't won and while I've had people congratulate me I'm not celebrating" she said.

"You can't put a figure on the pain and suffering this has caused, particularly to my children for the most part of their lives. Now they're going to appeal it and I wish I had enough money to take it to the High Court. I'll protest, though, and if I have to crawl there I'll protest outside county buildings," she said.

Stating that she has had to borrow from friends, she added that the case had cost a lot of money just to get to court.

"Yes, I've won in one small way in that the judge found in my favour but this has cost me a hell of a lot of money and my health has been at risk.

'I feel like I've been portrayed as a nut job, it's really upsetting and has put such a strain on my family," she continued, adding: "Society needs to be fairer".

A Kerry County Council spokesperson, meanwhile, expressed concern about the judgement.

"Our concern is that the judgement implies that all responsibility falls back on Kerry County Council," the spokesperson said.

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