Saturday 24 March 2018

'Survivor's guilt is hitting me all the time' - paramedic sues after dad-of-six colleague lost his life falling out ambulance door

Medic PJ Cahill leaving the High Court after the hearing (Pic: Courtpix)
Medic PJ Cahill leaving the High Court after the hearing (Pic: Courtpix)

Tim Healy

A paramedic - who saw a colleague die after he fell out of a moving ambulance - told the High Court of how he suffered afterwards.

“The survivor’s guilt was hitting me all the time." PJ Cahill (50) said.

"I felt it was never ending thing. I was on a merry go around I could not get off.”

Mr Cahill is suing for nervous shock as a result of witnessing the accident as he drove an ambulance, with a patient in it, from Cavan to Dublin on June 3, 2010.

His friend and colleague, Simon Sexton (43), a father of six, lost his life when he fell through an allegedly defective side door of the ambulance.

”All I know is it should never have happened", Mr Cahill said.

"You are working for a caring professional service and end up falling out of an ambulance dying on the side of the road.”

He said "the survivor’s guilt will always be there - I don’t know if it will ever disappear.”

Mr Cahill told how as he was driving along the N3 near Cavan town when he heard a thud.

He  looked in a mirror to see his friend hit the ground.

He jammed on the brakes and ran back to find Mr Sexton lying face down near the grassy verge.

Three years ago, the HSE was fined €500,000 for health and safety breaches as a result of Mr Sexton's death.

Mr Cahill, from Kilnagarbet, Stradone, Co Cavan, has sued his employers, the HSE, and the German manufacturer of the ambulance, Wietmarscher Ambulanz Und Sonderf Ahrzeug GMBH.

He has claimed an ambulance was supplied which permitted the side door to open against the direction of travel.

There was an alleged failure  to ensure a motion lock was fitted to the door to ensure it could not be opened while the ambulance was in motion.

The claims are denied.

In evidence on the second day of the case, Mr Cahill told how at Mr Sexton's funeral, the then CEO of the HSE, Brendan Drumm, sympathised with him.

“We had a chat and afterwards we shook hands and he said you have my number and if there is anything you ever want.

"He said don’t ever be at a loss after this. He was the top man in the job.”

Mr Cahill broke down in the witness box as he told how two years later, after he had used up his entitlement of sick days after the accident, he was off sick for a day with a cold he was docked a day’s pay.

“I asked to be reimbursed and was told that could not be done,” he said.  At that stage, he went to a solicitor.

He said in a letter to his solicitor later, the HSE has said that the sick pay scheme had been extended to Mr Cahill after the accident and it could only be a one off.

Mr Cahill said the alternative work he was offered was in an ambulance control room which would be high pressure dealing with members of the public ringing in.

He also told how Mr Sexton's widow Catherine sought him out at the funeral.

“She put her arms around me and said it was not my fault.”

The case continues.

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