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Facial injuries Soldier who injured her face after falling on her rifle is awarded €36,500

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Private Aoife Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts. Pic Collins Courts

Private Aoife Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts. Pic Collins Courts

Private Aoife Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts. Pic Collins Courts

A 19-year-old soldier, who suffered face wounds when she fell on her rifle during a night exercise in woods on the Slieve Bloom Mountains, has been awarded more than €36,000 damages against the Minister for Defence.

Judge Cormac Quinn said in the Circuit Civil Court today that the State had fallen short of the required duty of care owed to Private Aoife Burke in a simulated evacuation in darkness of a “bivvy” (bivouac) during an enemy attack.

Barrister John Nolan told the court that Private Burke, now aged 24, had accepted to continue the career of a professional soldier and had signed on for a further five years with the defence forces.

Mr Nolan, who appeared with Ruth Foy of Traceys Solicitors, had told the court she had tripped on a loose bungee cord as she exited the bivvy and had fallen, striking her face against her rifle. She had suffered injuries to her nose and her right eyelid.

Judge Quinn, in a reserved judgment from last week’s hearing, said Private Burke, of Kilskyre Road, Clonmellon, Westmeath, Co Offaly, had been a junior recruit who had undergone basic training and had not been experienced or trained in such a evacuation manoeuvre.

He said the exercise had taken place at night on the Slieve Bloom Mountains in a forest of evergreen trees owned by Coillte and on uneven muddy ground. There had been about 60 bungee cords used to secure up to 15 bivvies.

“The evacuation was conducted in darkness and involved a simulated exercise of waking up the soldiers at night in a situation where they could be under attack, picking up their rifles and putting on their webbing and helmets before evacuating the camp and making their way to a specific rendezvous point,” Judge Quinn said.

Judge Quinn said the exercise involved a degree of urgency. Dr Tom Clonan, a former army officer and expert witness for Private Burke, had told the court that while one could not eliminate risk completely in such a situation one needed to proactively control risk.

He said the court was satisfied Private Burke had left the bivvy and taken 10 to 15 paces before her foot became entangled in a loose bungee rope which, while secured at one end had become unattached at the other end, causing her to fall.

“Visibility was poor in the darkness and only red helmet lights were used. I am satisfied from the evidence of Dr Clonan that this was insufficient light in the particular circumstances of this case and fell below the required duty of care to Private Burke,” Judge Quinn said.

Awarding Private Burke €36,500 damages and costs, the judge said she had suffered an injury to her right upper eyelid and to her nose, both of which had left permanent scars.

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They would not require any further treatment in the future but were noticeable at conversation distance and affected by sunlight.

The court had initially heard Private Burke had been treated by medics on the mountain before having been taken to the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore.

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