A woman who lost five members of her family, including her two young sons, when their car slipped into the sea at Buncrana Pier in Donegal 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 as an extraordinary woman.
She had sued the estate of Sean McGrotty, the driver of the car, and Donegal County Council, over the accident when Mr McGrotty’s car slipped into the sea at Lough Swilly on Sunday, March 20,2016.
Mr McGrotty (49) died along with their sons Mark (12), and Evan (8), his mother in law Ruth Daniels (59) and Ruth’s daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14).
The Audi SUV 4X4 slid on algae and slipped into the sea.
The couple’s baby, Rioghnach-Ann, was the sole survivor when she was rescued from the sinking car after her father handed her out through a window.
Ms James from St Eithne’s Park, Derry, the court heard, 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 court Ms James had settled her own action on confidential terms after mediation.
The other actions taken on behalf of her two sons, her mother, Ruth, and sister, Jodie Lee, were also settled.
These cases were before the court for the ruling of the statutory 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.
In all cases it was claimed against the estate of Mr McGrotty that he 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 also claimed there was a 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.
Against Donegal County Council, it was claimed it 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 was a 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.
The claims were denied.
Counsel said 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 is now five years of age.
Mr Justice Paul Coffey ruled that the two payments of €35,000 each in relation to Mark and Evan be paid to their sister Rioghnach and the payments in relation to Ruth Daniels and 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.