Law student left with catastrophic injuries after car driven by banned motorist mounted footpath gets €8m damages

By Tim Healy

A law student left with catastrophic injuries when he was hit by a car driven by a banned motorist who mounted a footpath has settled his High Court action for damages against the driver for €8m.

Francis Dhala (21), Rathmore Drive, Tyrrelstown, Dublin, was one of two pedestrians struck by Paul Connolly who mounted a footpath near Coolmine Railway Station on May 1, 2018.

In May 2019, Connolly (39), formerly from Kildare, with an address at Cherryfield Walk, Hartstown, Dublin, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years, with the last 18 months suspended, for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm and driving under the influence of drugs. He was the subject of a 25-year driving ban at the time.

The Circuit Court heard Connolly admitted taking drugs the night before the incident when he was driving his child to school and undertook a line of traffic stopped at the railway barrier. He suddenly started swerving and mounted the path before hitting Mr Dhala and a 54-year-old man, who was also badly injured.

Connolly, who initially told gardaí he thought he had hit a bush, did a U-turn and “calmly” drove from the scene with a smashed window but was followed by another motorist who kept in touch with gardaí until they intercepted Connolly.

Mr Dhala sued Connolly and the car owner Mairead McGrath, whose address was given as c/o Allianz plc, Merrion Road, Dublin, claiming negligence and various breaches of duty

Liability was conceded and the case came before Mr Justice Michael Hanna on Tuesday for ruling after he was told a settlement of €8m had been agreed.

The judge described Mr Dhala’s recovery from his injuries as inspirational in what was a “horrifying tale of injury”.

Bernard McDonagh SC with Jonathan Kilfeather SC, said it was a tragic case in which Mr Dhala was struck by the car on what was his last day in college where he had been a first year law student.

He was walking on the pavement with his sister, who was also studying law but was not struck, and was taken to the local hospital in a comatose state before being transferred to Beaumont Hospital where initially his prognosis was poor.

Counsel said he suffered a catastrophic brain injury, effectively where the brain rotates in the skull, as well as fractured hip, rib and leg injuries.

He spent a year in hospital including nearly six months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Despite this, Mr McDonagh said, his client had made a remarkable recovery from what was a life threatening brain injury though still suffers from severe cognitive, executive function and memory losses.

All the medical reports said he suffered a lifelong injury and needs care for the rest of his life.

The defence had taken issue over future care needs because of his recovery but, counsel said, the case comes well within previous case law on the matter.

While there had been a remarkable physical recovery, the psychological factor remained an issue in the case.

The settlement included €4m for future care and €2m for loss of earnings and his legal team recommended the settlement offer, counsel said.

There would be an application to have him made a ward of court because of his doctors’ concerns about his future ability to manage his own affairs.

Mr Justice Hanna said “all plaudits” must go to Mr Dhala whose remarkable recovery was “absolutely staggering and shows obviously there is a fine spirit there and will make the best of what he has”.

Asked by the judge about Mr Dhala’s future, Mr McDonagh said he hopes to do a Masters and go on to be a solicitor. He has very supportive parents and was from a high achieving family with his sister having completed her law degree and his father, who is a lecturer, now working for the UN.

The judge said he had no hesitation in approving the settlement in what was a “tale of horrifying injury and inspirational effort and ability by Francis who has done astonishing things to make his lot as good as it might be”.

One could only hope that he will “in turn offer hope to many people in the situation of catastrophic injuries that they can go on to achieve things”, he added.

He also approved certain payouts from the settlement, including €395,000 for medical bills.