Engineer must indemnify operators of Longford DIY shop

Shop was scene of fatal accident in 2013 after wall collapsed on people

Two men died and several others were seriously injured when a section of a wall collapsed at Connacht Gold Co-Op Society’s DIY and Garden Centre at Athlone Road, Longford in 2013.

Two men died and several others were seriously injured when a section of a wall collapsed at Connacht Gold Co-Op Society’s DIY and Garden Centre at Athlone Road, Longford in 2013.

 

Two companies and an engineer must indemnify the operators of a DIY shop in Co Longford which was the scene of a fatal accident in 2013 after a wall collapsed on several people, the High Court has ruled.

Two men died and several others were seriously injured when a section of a 6.5 metre high, 8.4 metre wide internal wall collapsed at Connacht Gold Co-Op Society’s DIY and Garden Centre at Athlone Road, Longford on January 29th, 2013.

Arising out of the tragedy, Teresa Mulleady, Creenagh, Co Longford – whose 48-year-old husband Seán died in the accident – brought and settled a High Court action for alleged negligence against a number of parties for €750,000.

Mrs Mulleady sued the store’s tenant, Aurivo Cooperative Society (formerly Connacht Gold); the premises’ owners Vincent Ruane Builders Ltd; and Vincent Ruane Construction Ltd, which built the premises.

Proceedings were also brought against Simon Beale trading as Simon Beale and Associates who was the project manager engaged by the co-op to prepare plans and specifications while works were carried out at the premises.

The defendants all denied liability and Aurivo sought a court declaration it was entitled to an indemnity from the other defendants in respect of certain losses and damages.

Mr Justice Michael Peart ruled Mr Beale must indemnify Aurivo. He also ruled the other two defendants, both owned by developer and builder Vincent Ruane, must share some of the responsibility for what happened and must provide an indemnity of 20 per cent each to Mr Beale.

Noting none of the parties involved contended the wall as constructed was safe, the judge said: “The evidence against such a contention is overwhelming,” he said.

A strong gust of wind, when an external door was open, caused the wall to collapse, he said. Had the wall been constructed with appropriate supports, the fatalities and injuries would not have occurred, he said.

In this case, “each side blames another” and the court was asked to determine who was liable and to what degree, he added.

Having heard expert engineering evidence, the judge said allowing the wall to be constructed without any support of any kind across the entire span of the building up to roof level was “grossly negligent” and created “a danger to anyone who might be in the premises”.

Aurivo was entitled to be fully indemnified by Mr Beale in respect of all claims, the judge said. It was Mr Beale who was engaged by Aurivo and it was his negligence which caused the wall to be constructed in a way which exposed users of the premises to a risk of serious injury.

Mr Beale had failed to ensure the wall was safe as he was obliged to do, the judge said. It was “bewildering how an engineer whose job it was to prepare plans and specifications, and to oversee the works, could allow such an obviously dangerous wall to be constructed contrary to his specifications”.

The judge also ruled Mr Beale was entitled to a contribution from VR Builders because it must be considered to have directed VR Construction to deviate from the plans without any consultation with Mr Beale or the co-op.

Although the primary responsibility for ensuring the wall was built safely rested with Mr Beale, who ought to have called a halt to the construction when he saw the deviation from the plans so safety implications could have been discussed, VR Builders had contributed to the accident, the judge said.

This was because VR Builders had directed the deviation in the first place and were “concurrent wrongdoers”. The firm was liable to make a contribution of 20 per cent of Mr Beale’s liability to the co-op.

VR Construction, which built the wall, must also share in the liability and should also contribute 20 per cent, the judge said. VR Construction was directed by VR Builders to deviate from Mr Beale’s plans for the wall and “built it as it was built”.

The co-op is entitled to claim €210,000 for losses in respect of damage to its property caused by the collapse of the wall, the judge also found. If the co-op is prosecuted and acquitted, it would be entitled to an indemnity for the costs of its defence from the other parties, he added.

Mrs Mulleady should be paid immediately, the judge also directed.

After the judgment, Mrs Mulleady, in a statement issued through her solicitor Robert Anderson, of Anderson & Gallagher, said: “It certainly gives us no pleasure today to read details of the appalling and bewildering negligence of certain parties outlined in the judgment of Mr Justice Peart.”

The ruling “does not bring closure”, but there “is now some accountability as to date nobody was prepared to admit any responsibility”, she added.

“A day does not go by that Seán’s kind and loving presence is not missed by myself and our three children. He simply went into a shop to make a purchase and was killed,” the statement added.