J.T. -v- A.M. & anor, [2017] IEHC 516 (2017)

Docket Number:2015 6300 P
Party Name:J.T., A.M. & anor
 
FREE EXCERPT

THE HIGH COURT[2015 No. 6300 P.]

BETWEEN

J.T.PLAINTIFFAND

  1. M. AND F. M.DEFENDANTS

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Barr delivered on the 31st day of July, 2017

Introduction

  1. This action arises out of an incident which occurred at approximately 18:05hrs on 27th September, 2012, when the plaintiff was attacked by two dogs owned by the defendants while walking on a public highway in Co. Kildare. This was a vicious attack by the dogs, who repeatedly bit the plaintiff in the head and face area and also on her arms and legs. The plaintiff had been knocked to the ground and was lying face down on the grass verge at the side of the road in an effort to prevent the dogs biting her face and hands. The attack ceased when a neighbour of the plaintiffs came on the scene in her car and upon sounding the car horn, the dogs fled the scene.

  2. As a result of the attack, the plaintiff suffered extensive lacerations to her face, head, left ear, arms and legs. She has been left with significant scaring and discolouration in these areas. The plaintiff also suffered an injury to the left tempomandibular joint. She will require extensive dental surgery in the future. Finally, the plaintiff has been diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [hereinafter: P.T.S.D.]. She has been on antidepressant medication since the attack. She has been advised to have further treatment in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy [hereinafter: C.B.T.]. She will require approximately ten sessions of this. However, it is anticipated that she will have some ongoing psychiatric sequelea in the form of a persisting fear of dogs and loss of self confidence and upset at her physical appearance, due to the scaring which will be permanent.

  3. The plaintiff has a claim for special damages of approximately €54,557. This is essentially made up of past loss of earnings, past medical expenses and the cost of future dental treatment. There is not a great dispute between the parties in relation to these items.

  4. Liability is not in issue in these proceedings.

    The Evidence

  5. The plaintiff is a married lady of 47 years of age, having been born on 16th June, 1970. She was aged 42 years at the time of the incident, the subject matter of these proceedings. She has three children, who were aged 7, 9 and 13, at the time of the incident. She is employed as a computer instructor.

  6. On the evening of 27th September, 2012, the plaintiff set off from her house at 18:00hrs, to take her regular exercise in the form of a 6.4km walk. She was clear in relation to the time at which she had left her house, as she times herself doing the walk and she noted that it was 18:00hrs when she left. After approximately, 3 – 4 minutes, she came to the entrance to the defendants’ house, who are her neighbours. She was walking on the right hand side of the road and was walking away from the camera as shown in photograph No. 1. When she came to the brow of the hill as shown in that photograph, she saw that the defendants’ dogs were standing in the entrance to the driveway. They came out slightly and she told them to “Go home”. The two boxer dogs came across the road and jumped up at her in an effort to bite her face and she was knocked back onto the green verge at the side of the road.

  7. The plaintiff stated that she instinctively put her hands up to her face to protect it from being bitten by the dogs. However despite doing that, they managed to make contact with her face and head. They then proceeded to start biting at her hands. The plaintiff feared that they would cause extensive damage to her hands, which would have a devastating effect on her ability to work as a computer instructor. For that reason, she pulled her hands back into the sleeves of her jacket and rolled onto her front, so that she was lying face down on the verge. The dogs kept biting at her head and body. They bit her on each of her arms and were able to puncture the light rain jacket that she was wearing. She received multiple puncture wounds and lacerations to both arms. The dogs also bit her behind the right ear and more significantly, one of the dogs managed to bite into her left ear, causing portion of the left ear to be partially torn away from her head.

  8. The plaintiff stated that she was terrified during this ordeal. She was very frightened that the dogs would keep biting her for a prolonged period, as this was a quiet rural road, without much traffic. She also had a fear that as she was lying on the grass verge with her legs partially out onto the road surface, that a passing motorist might not actually see her and she feared that a car might drive into her and kill her, or at the very least, cause serious injury to her legs.

  9. The plaintiff stated that she and terrified during the attack. She stated that it felt to her as if the attack lasted approximately 20 minutes, however, she conceded that that was only her personal impression at the time and may well not be a true reflection of the length of the attack. After some time, a passing motorist arrived and, seeing what was taking place, the driver blew the car horn and the dogs ran off. In terms of the actual duration of the attack, the plaintiff was clear that she had left her house at 18:00hrs and had arrived at the locus within 3 – 4 minutes. Garda Higgins, who came on the scene subsequently in response to a call from his station, stated that he arrived at the scene at approximately 18:20hrs. He could not recall from where he had travelled after receiving the call from his station. He did recall that he had activated the siren and flashing lights on his car and had driven there at some speed. He estimated that the 999 call made by the motorist, who came to the plaintiff’s assistance, was probably placed between 18:10hrs and 18:20hrs. The court accepts this evidence and is satisfied that on the balance of probabilities the attack by the dogs probably lasted in or about 10 minutes from 18:05hrs to 18:15hrs.

  10. Garda Higgins stated that when he arrived at the scene, the plaintiff was still lying face down on the grass verge. She was in a shocked condition and was lapsing in and out of consciousness. There was blood coming from her face and head and there was also blood on her hands. An ambulance arrived a short time later and the plaintiff was removed to hospital.

  11. The plaintiff was taken initially to Naas General Hospital, where her wounds were cleaned. A number of x-rays were also taken at that stage. The plaintiff was admitted overnight, and on the following morning, she was transferred to St. James Hospital in Dublin. There she came under the care of Dr. Patricia Eadie, Consultant Plastic Surgeon. On admission, the plaintiff was noted to have lacerations to the right cheek, right ear, her left ear lobe, right side of her neck, behind her right ear and on her left calf. She had multiple lacerations and puncture wounds on both upper arms, with significant bruising of the upper arms. She had multiple puncture wounds on the left forearm. She had sensory changes over the anatomical snuff box on the left hand. The plaintiff was taken to theatre and under general anaesthetic she had irrigation and closure of all the wounds. A branch of the radial sensory nerve was noted to be intact, but badly bruised.

  12. Following discharge from hospital, the plaintiff was seen in the outpatients department on a number of occasions. She was also seen by the hand therapists on a number of occasions, as she had weakness and stiffness of her left wrist. She also attended the physiotherapists locally, in relation to difficulty using her left hand and wrist. A gradual improvement was made in this regard. She was last seen in the outpatient clinic on 8th May, 2013, at which stage her scars were noted to be immature, but improving. The strength in her left hand had improved.

  13. The plaintiff was reviewed by Dr. Eadie on 27th May, 2015, at which time she complained of numbness on the dorsal aspect of her left thumb, in the anatomical snuff box area and on the extensor aspect of her left distal forearm. She had tightness in her left forearm especially on extending her wrist. She was self-conscious about her facial scars and tended to cover the scars on her left forearm as much as possible. Due to a fear of dogs, she was reluctant to leave the house and as a consequence had all but given up her walking regime, causing an increase in her weight of about 4 stone.

  14. The plaintiff also stated that her arm was weaker since the injury, which caused her difficulty doing activities such as floor exercises. At night she used a pillow to support her left arm to prevent pain and discomfort in her wrist. She stated that she experienced throbbing pain in her left arm, wrist and hand on a frequent basis. In general, her left arm was a lot weaker since the attack.

  15. Examination on that occasion revealed a 2cm transverse indented scar in the right malar region, which was pale and soft. Below that were two small scars with puncture wounds. On her scalp there were three scars which were difficult to locate. There was a 2cm pale soft scar on her right occiput just below the hairline. However, this was a scar from a previous accident. On the left forearm, there was an extensive area of scarring on the radial aspect. This area measured approximately 13 x 6cm. It consisted of a long jagged laceration with multiple associated small scars on it. There was an indentation at the junction of the middle and distal one thirds of the left forearm. There was a 1cm pale, barely visible, scar on the dorsal aspect of the PIP joint of her left middle finger. The plaintiff had altered sensation and numbness in her distal left forearm on the radial aspect and numbness in the anatomical snuff box area and at the back of her thumb.

  16. Examination also revealed multiple small pale scars on her right upper arm and forearm. There were, at least, fifteen of these scars. The longest of these was the most superior...

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