The Supreme Court considered an appeal concerning a former soldier who sued the army for negligence over its delay in failing to diagnose and treat him for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arising from his experiences in Lebanon. The soldier had previously been awarded €302,873 in the High Court.
The court agreed with the finding by the lower court that there was a failure to properly and more speedily diagnose and treat the former private sooner than in 1996. The plaintiff claimed he did not receive any counselling or treatment from the Army for severe anxiety attacks and stress-related illness sustained from his experiences in Lebanon in 1986/87.
His case was considered a test case concerning the State’s liability over PTSD.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by the Minister for Defence, but they reduced the award to €150,000. The court found that the plaintiff’s condition had improved by the time of the High Court case and that he had never been out of work and brought no claim for loss of earnings therefore it was unclear if there was any proper basis for an award for “loss of vocation or loss of employability”.
There was culpable negligence by senior army staff in failing, despite his “strange and abnormal behaviour”, to refer him for diagnosis and treatment and this led to his contracting chronic PTSD.
The plaintiff was described as a “broken man” when he returned from his first and only tour of duty there at the age of 21. He was in Lebanon at a “tough” time when there was an atmosphere of huge hostility with UNIFIL troops coming under regular fire, the court was told.
The Plaintiff had harrowing experiences in Lebanon including the loss of colleagues killed by the Israeli forces. He was discharged from the Army in 1998 on health grounds after 14 years of service. He also got €2,650 damages for hearing loss as part of the overall award. The Minister denied the claims relating to post-traumatic stress but did not dispute the hearing loss claims.
The Supreme Court upheld the core findings in relation to negligence by the defence forces concerning the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD but reduced the award.
Murtagh v Minister for Defence  IESC 37
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