Court overturns €158,864 award to woman for 2014 trip and fall
Posted on 30th January 2020 at 20:36
The Court of Appeal has overturned an award of €158,864 damages to a woman who tripped and fell while crossing a courtyard area adjacent to her workplace in Co Sligo.
Giving the three-judge decision on Thursday, Mr Justice Brian McGovern said there was “no credible evidence” to support the liability finding of the trial judge.
Geraldine McHugh (66), now retired from her job as a clerical officer with the Revenue, had sued the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Minister for Social Protection and the State over the accident at Cranmore, Co Sligo, on September 1st 2014. She alleged concrete pavers in the courtyard area were in a dangerous and defective condition and she was caused to trip and fall as a result of that.
She alleged her left foot was caught on a raised tile, she fell forward and suffered injuries to her wrist, thumb, back and hip. The defendants denied liability, pleaded contributory negligence and appealed after the High Court’s Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon awarded a total €158,864 damages to Ms McHugh in late 2018.
A stay applied on the award pending appeal which was against both the finding of liability and the sum awarded. In the appeal court judgment, Mr Justice McGovern said CCTV footage established Ms McHugh had incorrectly identified to her engineer the point at which she fell.
Having seen that footage, Ms McHugh accepted she had identified the wrong area and her engineer accepted his report was on the basis of his having examined an area where she did not trip and fall, “although close to it”. Her engineer also accepted under cross-examination there was no tripping hazard at the place where Ms McHugh actually fell and this evidence was corroborated by the engineer called on behalf of the appellants.
The High Court’s conclusions on liability were based on comments by Ms McHugh’s engineer the snagging of her toe was consistent with the raised lip of a concrete paver, Mr Justice McGovern said. That conclusion was “against the weight of the evidence”.
He said the trial judge had accepted the “fallacious thesis” of Ms McHugh’s engineer that (1) Ms McHugh fell over, (2) she must have tripped, (3), if she tripped, there “must have been a trip hazard (even though none could be identified on inspection)” and (4), if there was a trip hazard, there must have been negligence. Because Ms McHugh fell in the manner in which she did, it does not necessarily follow there was a trip hazard.
“Everyone’s experience of life is that people can fall in the absence of any specific hazard.”
The High Court judge was invited to fill in the evidential gaps in Ms McHugh’s case and fell into error in doing so, he held. The trial judge erroneously considered the evidence satisfied the burden of proof on Ms McHugh but the evidence fell short of doing so to such an extent it could be said there was “no credible evidence” to support the liability finding. He concluded the appeal would be allowed. Because of the rejection of the High Court findings on liability, there was no need to address the claim the sum awarded was excessive, he added.
The defendants are also entitled to their costs, he directed.
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