Jillian Kennedy (now Brennan) was working in AIB Bankcentre in Dublin on the afternoon she got a call to say her husband, Paddy Byrne, had been involved in an incident and she should come to the hospital.
Paddy was employed by Glanbia but as he was on shortened hours at the time, he was doing some work for his brother’s company, Martin Byrne Car Dismantlers.
On August 26th, 2011 he was picking up a number of damaged vehicles from Windsor Motors in Galway but became stuck in the door of the second one as he sought to load it on to the recovery truck. CCTV subsequently showed him struggling to free himself in the rain but he couldn’t and he went unnoticed despite calling for help until an arriving customer spotted him, alerted staff and he was freed, 52 minutes after the incident had started.
“When he was trapped, he couldn’t feel his legs,” recalls Jillian now. “So, I was driving down there thinking gosh, what will we do if he is paralysed? Thinking that that would be the worst thing ever. But when I saw him he said he could move his legs and we were both so relieved.
“Before he was taken away to surgery he did say that he thought he was going to die but I assured him: ‘You’re here. You’re safe. You’re not going to die.’”
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Later, however, Paddy’s inquest would hear that the length of time he had gone unnoticed had been critical. Had he been discovered and freed within a few minutes, Dr Kevin Clarkson said, it was “a reasonable assumption” he would have suffered no more than a couple of broken ribs and been out of hospital within a few days.
As Jillian remembers it being explained to her, “the crush injury pushed all his organs upwards and because he had been in that position for 52 minutes, almost an hour pretty much, when he was released his organs rushed back and tried to get into place but they were all crashing off each other, causing significant injury”.
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“So he essentially suffered internal bleeding but at a microscopic level. There was no one major source of bleeding, there were pinpricks and blood coming from everywhere which they couldn’t stop.”
Paddy died at 2.35am, 14 hours after the original incident. The inquest found the cause of death to have been “hypovolemic shock”.
Those regularly involved in workplace incident cases suggest the aftermath can be particularly traumatic because of disputes over responsibility, or the extent of it, sometimes simply rooted in the policy of an employer or their insurers.
Certainly Jillian found what followed particularly painful.
The inquest heard Windsor Motors had a policy of having a staff member accompany a visiting contractor but this did not happen in this instance while the winch Paddy was operating on the truck was said to have been faulty and he had not been adequately trained to operate the machinery.
The jury made recommendations on foot of these issues but the DPP decided against any prosecutions on the basis of the Health and Safety Authority’s (HSA’s) report on the incident.
Jillian sought to challenge both the DPP and HSA on a number of issues but found them “cold” and reluctant to engage.
In the end, her case against the two companies came before the High Court in April 2016 when it was settled after four days with apologies read out in court by legal representatives of the two insurance companies.
“It wasn’t about the money, I felt the case was the last thing I needed to do for Paddy and though the whole thing was terribly difficult, I found the actual case when it came to court to be a very positive thing. The judge listened very carefully to all those four days of evidence and though I was made to feel at times as though I was on trial, I felt the story of what happened was told.”
She was away from work for a prolonged period because of all that happened but although she has since moved on, she believes her life will always be impacted by what happened.
“I suppose I’m happy to say that my life has taken a different direction since. I’m married again and very happy, but Paddy’s still a part of our everyday lives because I was 19 when I met him; all of my adult stories included him.
“He was a lovely man, we did everything together and it’s terrible to think of the mental anguish and torture he must have gone through in those 52 minutes. It’s very emotional. It never leaves you, it really and truly doesn’t.”