Saturday 20 January 2018

Soldier awarded €80,000 after dislocating ankle on first parachute jump from helicopter

Corporal Gerard Kirby was a career solider who considers the Army to be his life Stock photo: PA
Corporal Gerard Kirby was a career solider who considers the Army to be his life Stock photo: PA

A soldier has been awarded €80,000 by the High Court after he dislocated his ankle when he took his first parachute jump from a helicopter.

Corporal Gerard Kirby was a career solider who considers the Army to be his life, Mr Justice Bernard Barton said.

The disappointment felt at being unable to serve as a front line soldier due to his injuries is a factor which was to be taken into account by the court when assessing damages, he said.

Cpl Kirby, who was in the elite Rangers unit at the time of the accident in Kildare, is now stationed in Cork in a different section of the Defence Forces.

He fractured his ankle in his first jump while training at the Curragh Camp and and later needed surgery.

Mr Justice Barton said notwithstanding that he had been warned about, and had accepted, the risks involved when he enrolled on the Army Parachute Training School course, he  was entitled to expect he would be provided with such equipment and training as was reasonable to enable him to perform his first jump safely.

Cpl Kirby was the first of six soldiers to jump from the helicopter on July 26, 2010.

The judge said he made an uneventful exit from the aircraft, started to count and felt a lift as the canopy began to deploy. However, the chute failed to open fully and the parachute lines were twisted.

"Apart from a complete chute opening failure, the situation could hardly have been more desperate, the speed of descent was far too fast and unless immediate action was taken, he faced imminent death or extremely serious injuries," the judge said.

He began to kick with his legs and deployed his reserve chute.

Cpl Kirby had sued the Minister for Defence , Ireland and the Attorney General who argued the training course was tried and tested by the army and he had been properly instructed.

The defendants also said a safety management audit investigation report into the accident stated the soldier adopted the wrong body position and his legs were open and kicking on impact.

The judge said the soldier's case was there had been a failure to provide lateral drift training and a failure to utilise the talk down system, failures which had caused the accident.

The judge said Cpl Kirby was emphatic that, as he descended, he heard no instructions on how to land from anybody on ground.

No satisfactory explanation was given to the court as to why there was no reference to parachute landing roll instructions in the investigation statements and reports after the accident, the judge said.

Mr Justice Barton further accepted Cpl Kirby's  evidence that following the instruction to jump, and the confirmatory tap on his helmet, the next communication which he heard was when he was being attended to on the ground.

The judge also found the failure to provide lateral drift training and an effective talk down system constituted negligence on the part of the defendants.

He also found there was no contributory negligence on behalf of the soldier.

The judge granted a stay in the event of an appeal and providing €60,000 was paid out immediately.

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