Court overturns €56,000 award to woman who lost fingertip after door shut on it

Donegal bar owner succeeds in appeal over alleged negligence at premises in 2012

The woman suffered a severe crushing injury to the finger when the door at the Donegal bar closed on it, which ultimately resulted in its tip being amputated. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

The woman suffered a severe crushing injury to the finger when the door at the Donegal bar closed on it, which ultimately resulted in its tip being amputated. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

The Court of Appeal has overturned an award of €56,250 damages to a woman whose little finger tip was ultimately amputated after a door used by her to exit a pub after hours slammed shut on it.

Michelle McGeoghan, St Teresa’s Terrace, Bruckless, Co Donegal sued Christopher Kelly, owner of McLaughlin’s bar in Dunkineely, Co Donegal; and also sued Martin McBrearty and Pauric McInern, who had taken a one-year lease of the premises, over the incident which occurred at about 2.30am on August 6th, 2012.

The High Court’s Mr Justice Charles Meenan awarded a total €75,000 damages, reduced to €56,250 on the basis of 75 per cent negligence by the defence and 25 per cent contributory negligence by Ms McGeoghan.

He found the defendants negligent over failure to ensure a closing mechanism fitted to the door was functioning correctly to prevent the door slamming.

Both sides appealed and, in a judgment on Wednesday, the three-judge Court of Appeal allowed the defendants’ appeal and dismissed Ms McGeoghan’s cross appeal. Costs issues will be decided later but the court expressed its provisional view the defence is entitled to costs in the High Court and COA.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said Ms McGeoghan arrived at the bar some time after 11pm after attending bingo and had a few drinks with her husband who left ahead of her to get a taxi.

As it was well after closing time, the pub entrance door was closed and she had to leave by a separate door opening onto Main Street.

She claimed the corridor to the outside was dark. The door was secured by a Union snib lock which she opened with her right hand. As the door opened slightly, she placed her left hand around its leading edge intending to draw it towards her but, before she could do so, the door suddenly slammed shut, catching the little finger of her left hand between the door and its jamb. She suffered a severe crushing injury to the finger which ultimately resulted in its tip being amputated.

The judge said it was “of some significance” the personal injury summons had issued in June 2013 before a joint engineering inspection of the door. The sole and only case pleaded was, in substance, there was no closer on the door.

A joint engineering inspection took place in September 2013 when the defence engineer noted the door was fixed with a closing/damping device. He noted the door was inclined to stick as it closed because its underside was catching against the doorstep top surface and, once past this restriction, it closed freely and quickly. The damping effect was thus negligible at the time.

After a second joint engineering inspection in October 2018, Ms McGeoghan alleged, on the night of the accident, there was no handle fitted to the door and no closer on the door.

The High Court found there was a handle and a closer and found negligence against the defence on the basis of the closer not functioning correctly. It held the corridor light was switched on and the defence had no duty that evening to safely escort Ms McGeoghan off the premises.

Mr Justice Noonan said the High Court found the incident was probably caused by the failure of the door closer to function properly.

It did not follow, because a particular step might have avoided an accident, the failure to take that step must be viewed as negligence, he said.

The case as pleaded, which never changed, was there was no closer on the door and there should have been. It was “inescapable” the trial judge had found the defence liable on a case never actually pleaded, or made, by Ms McGeoghan.

The cause of the accident was never established and there was “absolutely no evidence” before the High Court of any obligation on the defendants to have a door closer on any door in their premises. The fact there was a door closer, albeit one not working properly, was “entirely immaterial” to their liability.

Given the finding there was a light on the corridor, the suggestion of a need for supervision in leaving the premises fell away, he also held.