Ireland

Buncrana pier tragedy: ‘Extraordinary woman’ who lost five family members settles actions

A woman who lost five members of her family, including her two young sons, when their car slipped into the sea at Buncrana Pier has settled High Court actions over the tragic event.

Louise James, whose partner, sons, mother, and sister drowned in the tragedy was described in the High Court today as an extraordinary woman.

She had sued the estate of her late husband Sean McGrotty, the driver of the car, and Donegal County Council over the accident on Sunday, March 20, 2016.

Mr McGrotty (49) died along with his sons Mark (12), and Evan (8), his mother in law Ruth Daniels (59) and Ruth’s daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14) when his Audi SUV 4X4 vehicle slipped into the sea at Lough Swilly.

The couple’s baby, Rioghnach-Ann, was the sole survivor of the tragedy when she was rescued from the sinking car after her father handed her out through a window.

The High Court heard that Ms James, from St Eithne’s Park, Derry, has settled a separate nervous shock mental distress action for damages over the accident.

Her counsel, Sara Moorehead SC, instructed by Robert Anderson of Anderson & Gallagher Solicitors, told the High Court Ms James had settled her own action on confidential terms after mediation and the other actions taken on behalf of her two sons Mark and Evan, her mother Ruth Daniels and sister Jodie Lee Daniels who drowned in the tragedy were also settled.

These cases were before the court for the ruling of the statutory solatium mental distress payment of €35,000 in each case. All five settlements are without an admission of liability.

Counsel said the settlements related to one of the most tragic events at Buncrana Pier.

Claims against estate of Mr McGrotty

In all cases, it was claimed against the estate of Mr McGrotty, who was the driver, that he allegedly failed to notice the pier was slippery and or dangerous and unsuitable for driving on due to algae or a similar slippery substance and because the pier was sloped.

It was further claimed there was an alleged failure to notice the surface of the pier was slippery in a timely manner or at all and that it was unsafe to drive on.

It was also claimed there was an alleged failure to anticipate the risk of the accident occurring in circumstances where the surface of the pier was slippery and dangerous due to algae.

Mr McGrotty, it was claimed, drove on to the pier when he ought to have known it was dangerous and likely to cause risk of injury to his passengers.

The claims were denied.

Claims against Donegal County Council

Against Donegal County Council it was claimed it allegedly allowed motorists in general and Mr McGrotty to drive on the pier in circumstances where the Council ought to have known that it was unsafe in light of the condition of the pier and in the circumstances where the pier was slippery.

It was also claimed there an alleged failure to have any or any adequate warning signs or barriers in place about the pier so as to prevent persons driving on to it.

It was further claimed there was an alleged failure to notice that the surface of the pier was slippery in a timely manner or at all and that it was unsafe to drive on and it was further claimed there was also an alleged failure to anticipate the risk of the accident occurring in circumstances where the pier was sloped and caused a risk of Mr McGrotty’s car sliding.

The claims were denied.

Counsel told the court Ms James was an extraordinary woman who since the death of her family members had retrained as a Special Needs Assistant and will begin work in her daughter Rioghnach’s school in September.

Counsel said it has been extremely difficult for Ms James. Rioghnach, the sole survivor of the accident, is now five years of age.

Mr Justice Paul Coffey ruled that the two solatium payments of €35,000 each in relation to Mark and Evan McGrotty be paid to their sister Rioghnach and the solatium payments in relation to Ruth Daniels and Ruth’s daughter Jodie Lee Daniels be paid to Ms James and her siblings.

The judge said the accident was “a poignantly sad and tragic event which impacted overwhelmingly on the family unit.” The judge also conveyed his deepest sympathy to Ms James and her daughter, and he offered them every best wish for the future.

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