High Court: Trip-and-fall claim dismissed because plaintiff failed to look where he was walking



Killian Flood BL
Killian Flood BL

The High Court has dismissed a personal injuries action in a trip-and-fall case on the basis that the plaintiff failed to look where he was walking at the time of the accident.

The court applied cases such as Lavin v. Dublin Airport Authority [2016] IECA 268 and stated that the accident would not have occurred if the plaintiff had been paying attention to his surroundings.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s evidence that he had never seen the ramp before, considering that he visited the adjacent property several times a week. The court also decried the fact that the defendants would likely have to pay their own legal fees despite winning the case.

Background

The plaintiff, Mr Edward Ronan, visited his sister’s house in February 2015 at approximately 7pm. The plaintiff said that he visited his sister several times per week.

The adjacent house was owned by Ms Joanne Barrett. Her house had a concrete ramp in front of it which lay between the road and the footpath. It seemed the ramp was used to allow a car to mount the footpath and park on the far side of said footpath in front of other houses.

On the evening in question, Mr Ronan claimed to have tripped and fallen on the ramp as he visited his sister. He claimed to have suffered fractures to his back and that he could no longer sleep due to the pain. Mr Ronan subsequently brought proceedings against Ms Barrett and Tipperary County Council, claiming that the negligent placement of the ramp caused him to fall.

The evidence established that the ramp was built in 2011 and was therefore in place for years prior to the accident. Mr Ronan claimed that he visited his sister regularly and would usually approach her house on foot. However, he claimed that the first time he saw the ramp was when he tripped on it.

Mr Ronan had significant credibility issues and gave inconsistent evidence as to whether he fell on his back or his front. He initially claimed to have fallen on his back but changed his evidence to say that he fell forward and suffered damage when he attempted to get up. He also claimed never to have met his own expert engineer, even though the engineer swore that they had met at the accident site. He made similar claims that he had never met Ms Barrett, although she said they had multiple meetings over the years.

High Court

The court began by stating that, if the lawyers for the plaintiff had asked whether Mr Ronan was looking where he was going and if he should have seen the hazard, then the claim would not have been taken.

Based on the evidence, the court held that ramp was a significant piece of concrete and that a person “could not fail to see it” if they were looking where they were going. This was particularly so given that Mr Ronan often visited his sister. There was no evidence to show that the estate was not well-lit, the court said. As such, and on the balance of probabilities, the court held that Mr Ronan was aware of the ramp.

In reaching this conclusion, the court had regard to Power v. Waterford City and County Council [2020] IECA 196, which affirmed that a person is under a duty to look where they are going. The court also cited the Lavin case, which determined that an individual is under a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety.

Further, the court considered Byrne v. Ardenheath [2017] IECA 293 and Cekanova v. Dunnes Stores [2021] IECA 12, which state that a judge should take a common sense view of the evidence in non-complex accidents. In this case, the common sense approach indicated that Mr Ronan would have seen the ramp if he was looking where he was going.

While the court accepted that the ramp may, in one sense, have been the cause of the accident, this did not give rise to liability for the defendants. The court held that the legal cause of the accident was the plaintiff’s failure to keep a look out.

The court’s decision was also influenced by the lack of credibility that Mr Ronan had as a witness. The court noted the inconsistencies in his evidence, which was contrasted with the court’s positive view of Ms Barrett’s evidence.

The court accepted Ms Barrett’s evidence that she did not construct the ramp and did not need it to access parking to her house. As such, the court held that Ms Barrett could not be liable for the injuries sustained.

Further, the court determined that the County Council did not owe any duty of care to the plaintiff. Although the Council leased the property to Ms Barrett, the ramp was not within the confines of the premises and so the Council could not be liable for it. It was also accepted that the ramp was not built on a road for which the Council had responsibility.

Finally, the court commented that, despite winning the case, the defendants were in a lose/lose situation. This was because Mr Ronan was unemployed, so it was unlikely that the defendants would receive their legal costs from him. The court held that there was an injustice in this scenario for all defendants, whether they were insurance companies, taxpayer-funded entities or self-funded individuals.

Conclusion

The court dismissed the claim with costs to the defendants.

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2021



Other judgments by Mr Justice Michael Twomey

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