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High Court overturns €40,000 damages payout to woman who fell on Wicklow Way

The judge said the woman was genuine, but had been negligent when she fell.

Stile connecting the Djouce summit track to the Wicklow way.
Stile connecting the Djouce summit track to the Wicklow way.
Image: Jimmy Harris via Flickr/CC

BOTH THE MINISTER and relevant interest groups have welcomed a High Court decision that overturned a damages award for a woman who fell while walking in Wicklow.

The High Court overturned the Circuit Court decision to award a hillwalker Teresa Wall€40,000 for injuries she sustained after she tripped and fell on a boardwalk on the Wicklow Way.

In his judgment this morning Justice Michael White said he was satisfied to dismiss a damages claim by Teresa Wall.

She had claimed she tripped and fell after her foot had snagged in a hole in one of the old railway sleepers that made up a boardwalk just below the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail near Roundwood.

As a result she sued the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who placed the boardwalk on the lands. Last year at Dublin Circuit Court judge Jacqueline Linnane found the NWPS was negligent and was ordered to pay Wall €40,000 damages.

The NPWS, who denied negligence, appealed that ruling to the High Court.

Minister for Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys and Minister of State for Regional Development Michael Ring both welcomed the ruling.

“The minister and their officials will now take time to consider the details of Justice White’s ruling and its future implications for our National Parks and their recreational remit,” the department said in a statement.

Mountaineering Ireland also welcomed the ruling, describing it as reassuring:

The judgment will provide reassurance to hillwalkers and to many landowners, public and private who permit access to their land. It reinforces the long established principle that people engaging in outdoor recreational activities must take responsibility for their own safety.

‘Genuine person’

Ruling on that appeal today Justice White said Wall was “a genuine person” who had suffered injuries that had greatly affected her “active lifestyle”.

However he said when considering “the mechanism of her fall” the judge found there was “high degree of negligence on Wall’s part in that she was not looking at the surface of the boardwalk when she fell.”

Justice White added the case raised a number of complex legal issues. After considering all the points raised he was satisfied that the NWPS was not negligent and said he was allowing the NPWS’s appeal.

In adjourning the matter for two weeks to allow the parties consider his decision the Judge asked lawyers for the NWPS to consider Ms Wall’s situation before making any application for their legal costs.

Implications

The decision has significant implications for Ireland’s national parks and for the future of the Wicklow Way itself.

Had the Circuit Court’s decision been upheld fears were expressed during the hearing of the High Court appeal that the popular walking route would disintegrate as private land owners would withdraw their consent allowing walkers on their property.

In her action Wall claimed the accident occurred around 4pm on 6 August 2013 when and her husband had been coming down the mountain.

Wall from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin said suffered a gash to her right knee which required seven stitches and was left in significant pain for some time afterwards.

She said the NPWS was negligent and in breach of its duty of care towards her.

The NPWS also permitted a defect to be present in in the boardwalk where the timber had rotted away, created a tripping hazard, left the boardwalk in a unsafe condition and created a public nuisance at the site, she also claimed.

The claims were denied. The NPWS had argued that Ms Wall contributed to her injuries by not looking where she was going and was the author of her own misfortune.

She had participated in a activity known to have risks and the NWPS added it was not responsible for anything that may have happened to her.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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