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€519,000 for widow of drowned man

28th April 2008

The widow of a man drowned by a faulty lifejacket was awarded more than €519,000 in damages last Friday.

Ella Sweeney (69) watched helplessly from the shore as her husband Jack (64) struggled and drowned after falling out of a punt as he rowed to the couple's moored boat on August 18, 2003.

The court heard that a defective valve in the lifejacket, bought in Cork just days earlier, allowed it to half-fill with water, pulling Mr Sweeney under to his death.

The judge criticised the absence of a recall of a clearly dangerous product.

"Clearly lives are at risk because of this defect. I wonder was it a decision of some desk-bound 'bean-counter' to save costs by not ordering a recall," Mr Justice Paul Butler said.

"I think it is important that it be established whether or not the same valve was used in other life-jackets."

The respondents, CH Marine of Cork and manufacturers Baltic Safety AB of Sweden, assured the court that the valve in question was no longer being made, and that none of the offending lifejackets had been sold since 2003.

Neither CH Marine nor Baltic contested liability for Mr Sweeney's death, but did contest the aggravated damages claimed by Mrs Sweeney on the basis of her post-traumatic stress disorder.

The two respondents are now likely to take legal action against the manufacturer of the faulty valve, Halkey Roberts Corporation of Florida, USA.

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