A man who lost part of a finger while voluntarily assisting with putting up timber cladding on the pro-shop of his local golf club has been awarded €101,495 damages by the High Court.
Ms Justice Niamh Hyland ruled Mark McGroarty was not a paid-up member at the time and could therefore sue Cobh Golf Club in Cork.
Mr McGroarty (48), a scratch golfer (one with a zero handicap), lost part of his left index finger while assisting a carpenter at the club on June 5th, 2015. He had been asked by the club captain Nigel Britton to assist the carpenter after his usual assistant worker was unable to make it.
Tony McKeown, a qualified carpenter and club member, asked Mr McGroarty to hold a long plank of timber balanced on a single milk crate while Mr McKeown cut it with a circular electric saw.
While holding it, Mr McKeown lost control of the saw, which made contact with Mr McGroarty’s left hand, the court heard. The extensor tendon of his middle finger was also severed.
Mr McGroarty, of Springfield Park, Cobh, is employed by the Irish Naval Service. He was airlifted to Cork University Hospital where he underwent an operation.
He sued the four trustees of the club, Diarmuid Kilcullen, Mimi Stack, Stephen McCormack and Christopher Stack, all care of Cobh Golf Club, and Mr McKeown, with an address at Lehenaghmore, Togher, Cork, claiming they owed him a duty of care and their negligence caused his injury.
The defendants denied liability.
The trustees claimed, because he was a member of the club, he cannot sue the other members of the golf club.
Mr McKeown pleaded in his defence that Mr McGroarty was acting voluntarily in tandem with him, Mr McKeown, the works having been organised by the club captain. He also pleaded contributory negligence by Mr McGroarty.
Mr McGroarty argued he was not a member at the time due to his subscription not having been paid up at the time. He was therefore entitled to recover damages against the defendants, he claimed.
Ms Justice Hyland ruled the club constitution, properly interpreted, requires a member’s subscription to be paid by January 31st each year, failing which membership shall be deemed to be terminated.
It was true the practice of the club was to ignore this rule and to treat persons, including Mr McGroarty, as members even where the subscription had not been paid, she also said.
Mr McGroarty, she noted, had entered club competitions and represented the club on teams playing interclub tournaments, although he had paid only a small part of his subscription by January 31st, 2015. He had been a member since 2010.
However, following a decision in a previous case, the rules of clubs cannot be taken to be altered by implication, including by the practice of a club, in circumstances where those rules represent a contract between all of the members, she said.
It was also in circumstances where members commit their efforts and resources to the club on the basis of the rules as they exist at the time of someone joining. The club’s acceptance of a payment by Mr McGroarty, though less than the subscription amount, after the termination date does not alter the situation, she said.
There was no evidence the club had reinstated him after his membership was terminated, or that this payment was a reinstatement payment, she said.
Nor was there any evidence of a waiver by the club of its requirements in relation to payment of the subscription.
She found he was not a member of the club at the relevant date and is therefore entitled to recover damages against the defendants.
The appropriate sum to compensate for his pain and suffering to date and into the future is €100,000, she held.
Because of the excellent support his employer provided to him, he has not suffered any loss of earnings or incurred significant costs for counselling since that has been provided free of charge by the Navy, she said.
That meant the claim for special damages was €1,495, bringing the total award to €101,495.