Council, engineers liable for ‘wrongful demolition’ of home

Family home knocked down during work on new road but Co Tipperary site was not used

Stock image: An engineering joint venture and Limerick County Council are respectively 70 and 30 per cent liable for the wrongful demolition of a family home during construction works for a new dual carriageway, the High Court has ruled.

Stock image: An engineering joint venture and Limerick County Council are respectively 70 and 30 per cent liable for the wrongful demolition of a family home during construction works for a new dual carriageway, the High Court has ruled.

 

An engineering joint venture and Limerick County Council are respectively 70 and 30 per cent liable for the wrongful demolition of a family home during construction works for a new dual carriageway, the High Court has ruled.

The site of the demolished property was never used for the new road between Limerick and Nenagh.

Brian and Mary O’Shaughnessy had described the destruction of their two bedroom farmhouse ‘The Hollows’ Annaholty, Birdhill, Co Tipperary, as a nightmare.

Ms O’Shaughnessy said, when she went on September 6th 2006 to collect post at the house, it was gone and the site was cleared.

Mr Justice Donald Binchy said it was “abundantly clear” what happened was “not down to any single act”. He ruled the consultant engineers, a joint venture called RPS Scetauroute, was 70 per cent responsible while the local authority was 30 per cent responsible.

A third party which carried out the actual demolition was found not to be negligent in the matter.

The O’Shaughnessys had brought proceedings seeking damages for alleged negligence from several parties including the council and National Roads Authority who they alleged, were both responsible for the operation, design and acquisition of land and oversaw construction of the N7 dual carriageway scheme.

They also sued RPS Consulting Engineers Ltd and EGIS Route Scetauroute SA (a joint venture in the name of RPS Scetauroute JV) contracted by the council to carry out certain works on the carriageway and Midland Fencing Ltd, a sub-contractor which carried out the demolition works.

The defendants denied negligence and also served each other with notices of contribution and indemnity.

Action settled

Last January, the O’Shaughnessys settled their action on undisclosed terms and the hearing proceeded to determine liability.

In his judgment, the judge said the demolition was “a consequence of a series of acts and omissions in which both LCC and RPS play a part.”

The events leading to the demolition included that an engineer for RPS, following consultations with LCC, had wrongly designated as derelict a plot of land, plot 156a, which was to be acquired. There was no structure on the plot, but there may have been in the past.

The council’s staff, when looking for a plot of land matching that description, mistakenly photographed and labelled the O’Shaughnessys’ home as being plot 156a and, in early 2006, the council included plot 156a on a list of properties to be demolished. The council then provided RPS with the list, including a photograph of the home, describing it as plot 156a.

RPS and the council both owed a duty of care to the O’Shaughnessys whose home should not have been demolished, he ruled. RPS failed in its duty under the terms of its contract to provide services to the council, failed to supervise the site properly, failed to ensure the resident engineers were sufficiently familiar with the site and failed to check the premises in the photograph given to it was at plot 156a, he found.

Council negligent

The council was negligent in instructing RPS to include plot 156a in the demolition contract, in incorrectly identifying plot 156a as being the O’Shaughnessys’ property and in relation to ensuring its staff were familiar with site boundaries and project documentation, he ruled.

The O’Shaughnessys bought the house for IR£34,500 in 1998, lived there for a period, also rented it out and told the court they always intended to reside there permanently.

Between 2001 to 2003 there was uncertainty about the house because it was close to the route of the new carriageway but the O’Shaughnessys were informed by the NRA in 2003 their home was not required to complete the project. Other houses in Annaholty were acquired and demolished as part of the construction works.

In the months before the demolition, Mr O’Shaughnessy was carrying out preparatory works as part of plans to renovate the house. By late August 2006, slates on the roof and furniture in the house were removed.