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Court of Appeal finds woman who sued partner's parents after she lost an eye entitled to €200,000

A damages claim had been dismissed by the High Court in 2012.

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THE COURT OF Appeal has ruled that a woman who sued her partner’s parents after she lost an eye in an accident is entitled to €200,000 damages.

Elaine Newman (32) damages claim arising out of the accident at the home of Marie and Patrick Cogan at Delganstown, Delvin, Co Westmeath on 22 June 2007 had been dismissed by the High Court in 2012.

She appealed that decision and in a unanimous decision the three judge Court of Appeal – comprised of Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan, Ms Justice Mary Irvine and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan – overturned the High Court and said she was entitled to a sum of €200,000.

Newman’s eye was catastrophically damaged when her partner Emmett Cogan fell and a piece of frozen meat in his hand hit and smashed the glass panels in a door causing pieces of glass to hit her eye.

Newman, originally from Mullingar claimed Mr and Mrs Cogan failed, under Section 3 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1995, to take reasonable care to ensure that she (Newman) as a visitor to the house did not suffer injury by reason of any existing danger.

In 2012 the High Court dismissed her case on the grounds the Cogans could not have been reasonably said to have failed in their duty of care by choosing the type of non-shatterproof glass which was in the door.

Patrick Cogan, a farmer, had replaced the glass himself in 2000/01, the glass having been broken on a number of occasions.

Evidence was given before the High Court that glass panels inserted in the door was ordinary glass and was not suitable for use in doors if broken.

At that time professionals in the building industry should have adhered to standard guidelines that required toughened safety glass be used in the doors.

‘Glass didn’t comply to required standards’

Giving the Appeal Court’s decision Ms Justice Irvine said Mr Cogan Seniors’ duty of care as occupier of the premises when he changed the glass in the door in 2000,2001 was to carry out the task with the level of care and skill expected of a reasonably competent tradesman.

Many householders consider themselves capable of carrying out such tasks, the judge said. When they do so they assume a duty to all who might be subsequently be affected by their actions to carry out the task with the care and skill required to complete the job safely.

If a visitor suffers an injury as a result of a danger caused by an act or omission of an occupier, liability for such a consequence will be judged on against the standard of care that would have been expected of a competent tradesman asked to carry out the same task, the Judge said.

In this case evidence was given that no reasonably competent tradesman if asked to replace the glass in the door in 2000 /2001 would have used anything other than safety glass, the judge said.

Regrettably that was a standard not met met by Mr Cogan Senior when he undertook to repair the door himself, the Judge said.

In the circumstances the High Court was obliged to find that the defendants were liable to Newman because the glass installed did not comply to the standard required, the Judge said.

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The Cogans did not contest her status as a visitor but denied liability. Before the hearing of the High Court action the parties had agreed that in the event of liability being found Newman was to get €200,000.

In her action, the court heard Emmett Cogan, who was on crutches at the time of the incident, had come into the farmhouse after getting a 2lb bag of meat from the freezer.

He came in behind Newman, when he tripped and fell over clutter in a porch area.

The hand with the meat in it crashed through a glass panel in the door with considerable force.

Newman had just turned around as the glass shattered and a shard or shards of glass shot into her right eye.

As a result, she lost the eye and now has an artificial eye.

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About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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