Firefighter’s death: State ‘found guilty’ appeals €200,000 compensation award

The Portuguese State has been found guilty of a tragic case of firefighter intoxification, but according to reports today, it is contesting the €200,000 compensation award made to the dead woman’s family.

Explains Jornal i, communications operator Viviana Dionísio, 29, died in August 2006 as she caught up on lost sleep during one of that summer’s bad forest fires.

She had been working solidly for 40-hours before being relieved in order to take some rest.

As Leiria’s adminstrative court heard, the young woman who had worked 14 years in the service climbed into the front seat of the communications vehicle at 4am on August 11.

The vehicle’s windows were closed and “there was no other form of ventilation”.

On the right hand side outside however a generator was working “through the night and early hours of the morning”.

“The smoke from the exhaust (of the generator) entered the chassis of the vehicle through a hole next to the rim of the rear right-hand wheel, spreading throughout the structure and lethally contaminating the environment”.

By the time colleagues came to wake Dionísio up, she was dead.

There is no doubt that her death was caused by “lethal doses of carbon monoxide” released by the generator, but even so the Public Ministry is contesting not only that it is to blame for the young firefighter’s death but that it should pay such high damages.

Says i, the State prosecutor’s appeal calls the latter “excessive and not correspondent to values normally attributed by jurisprudence and to the level of life of our country”.

“The Public Ministry goes further and defends “that indemnity for moral damages seeks to compensate pain, suffering and grief caused by illicit acts by others, but these must only be fully indemnified if they are sufficiently serious and objective measurement of such damages is impossible”.

It is a tortuous way of trying to wriggle out of the decision, maintaining that the evaluation taken by judge Filipe Veríssimo Duarte should be found in “other ways, namely through the agent’s degree of culpability, the economic situation of the parties and the circumstances of the case”.

Jornal i stresses that Dionísio’s decision to sleep in the vehicle’s cab is a “common practice” among those working at command centres, and was known to her superiors who “were present at the time”.

The way in which she died, therefore, found the State guilty of “a breach of duty of care”.

But the State is trying to put blame on the suppliers of the generator – even the homologation of the command vehicle in which Dionísio died.

And while the Public Ministry appeals, the dead firefighter’s parents who brought the case 11 years ago, and say they live in constant pain over what happened to their daughter, will of course receive no compensation.

This story was doing the rounds of the nation’s media on Monday (initially suggesting Dionísio died in 2016, which tabloid Correio da Manhã corrected in its print edition on Tuesday), but commentary on Jornal i’s text has been scathing – particularly as it follows revelations elsewhere that the State pays out millions every year in pensions to retired politicians.

Said one commentator: “How does the Public Ministry weigh up the cost of a life? Who are these people to determine that €200,000 is too high for a victim who died because the State hired or purchased shoddy equipment? If the State has misgivings over equipment it uses, it should sue the suppliers not get the Public Ministry to ask for damages to be reduced and provoke yet more pain and suffering for the victim’s family”.

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