A former Garda, who left her job after what she believed had been a bid by a rogue motorist to murder her, has been awarded more than €230,000 compensation for personal injury — one of the highest awards handed out by the High Court to any member of the force past or present.
The award against the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was made today Tuesday by Mr Justice Bernard Barton who said he accepted that ex-Garda Martha O’Gorman, now aged 58, had seen a look of death in her assailant’s eyes.
“I accept what Garda O’Gorman believed at the time when she says “I took from the way he looked at me that he intended to kill me’,” Judge Barton said today.
Following delivery of the reserved judgment Mr Martin Moran, solicitor for Ms O’Gorman, said she had worked and lived in Boyle, Co Roscommon, at the time but had since moved to an undisclosed address elsewhere.
Judge Barton said Garda O’Gorman had given evidence of having lost all confidence and self-esteem following the incident outside Boyle in November 2002 and had to move away from the small rural community because people were looking at her.
He said that having dreamed as a child of serving in the Garda Siochana she had ended up having to retire from the force. She was 43 and driving the official patrol when called to a check out a suspicious vehicle parked outside Centre Foodstore, Greatmeadow, Boyle.
Ms O’Gorman told the court that from a computer check she learned the car had been involved in a theft of petrol from a filling station in Athlone. It was untaxed and the driver, who later had been jailed for 12 months, did not have a driving licence with him.
Garda O’Gorman decided to seize the car and the driver had agreed to drive it and follow her to the station. Later he had turned off and she had pursued him in a high speed chase that had caused other motorists to swerve.
Near Hill Street, the vehicle had been reversed at speed at the patrol car and she had to jump out for her own safety as it seemed he was going to ram the patrol car.
“The offending car drove away and I had followed only a short distance when I met him coming towards me driving straight at the patrol car. I jumped out again and climbed up on a high bank,” she told the court.
“He drove straight at me and missed knocking me down only by inches. I was alone, back-up had not arrived and I was unable to pursue the car any further,” she said.
Judge Barton had been told she was so distressed and upset she was unable to return to work for over a year. She felt anxious and fearful, lost interest, motivation and enjoyment for the job she loved.
After 20 years in the force she had been discharged on medical grounds in January 2007.
She had attended a consultant psychiatrist and even after quitting her job she suffered from high levels of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, vivid intrusive thoughts and “obsessional ruminations” over what could have happened to her.
Ms O’Gorman said she had suffered panic attacks, nightmares, fatigue, loss of confidence, poor self-esteem, poor concentration, loss of short term memory, difficulty in sleeping and bouts of depression.
Her mind was constantly on “red alert” and getting through each day was an ordeal.
Judge Barton said he accepted that factors from the 2002 incident had contributed to Garda O’Gorman’s early retirement and awarded her €100,000 for loss of earnings, €70,000 general damages and €60,000 for loss of pension and gratuity rights.
Mr Moran applied for an award of agreed special damages of €1,593, bringing the total award to Ms O’Gorman of €231,593.