High Court hears appeal against €40,000 award to hillwalker

Parks and Wildlife Service given leave to call expert witnesses in Wicklow Way fall

Teresa Wall  after the opening day of an appeal hearing. She had claimed the National Parks and Wildlife Service allowed a defect in the Wicklow Way boardwalk, creating a tripping hazard. Photograph: Collins/Courts

Teresa Wall after the opening day of an appeal hearing. She had claimed the National Parks and Wildlife Service allowed a defect in the Wicklow Way boardwalk, creating a tripping hazard. Photograph: Collins/Courts

 

An appeal by the National Parks and Wildlife Service against a finding that it was liable for injuries suffered by a hillwalker in Co Wicklow is of “some importance” to the service, the High Court has been told.

Mr Justice Michael White, who granted the service’s application to call evidence from the Mountaineering Council of Ireland and other expert witnesses, has begun hearing an appeal against a Circuit Court award of €40,000 to Teresa Wall over an injury suffered on a rotting boardwalk on the Wicklow Way route in 2013.

In a decision that has implications for national parks, Judge Jacqueline Linanne last April found the parks and wildlife service negligent in that reasonable care had not been taken to maintain the boardwalk in a safe condition, and that this failure was responsible for Ms Wall’s injuries.

The judge ruled that Ms Wall was wearing appropriate clothes, boots and using walking sticks, and that there was no contributory negligence on her part.

Ms Wall had claimed the service permitted a defect to be present in the boardwalk where the timber had rotted away and created a tripping hazard.

The service denied negligence or breach of a duty of care towards her, pleading that Ms Wall contributed to her injuries by not looking where she was going and participated in an activity known to have risks, and that it was not responsible for anything that may have happened to her.

Black and blue

In evidence when the appeal opened yesterday, Ms Wall (60), of Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin, told the judge she was “black and blue on her right side” and in significant pain after gashing her knee on a nail after she fell on the boardwalk on August 6th, 2013 at about 4pm.

After lying on the ground at the scene of her fall for about half an hour, her husband Damien had to “piggyback” her down the mountain because he was unable to get a mobile phone signal to call for assistance.

Ms Wall’s foot had snagged in a hole in one of the old railway sleepers that made up a boardwalk just below the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap-to-Djouce trail near Roundwood, she said. The wound required seven stitches.

The accident occurred as Ms Wall and her husband were coming down the mountain after a long walk, she said. They had been active hillwalkers here and abroad but, because of the injuries to her knee, she was now only able to walk on flat terrain. She had also enjoyed running and had trained to do the Dublin City Marathon in October 2013, but was unable to run any more.

Cross-examined by Brian Murray SC, for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Ms Wall said she had 40 years of hillwalking experience and was looking where she was going when she fell.

Calling witnessess

Earlier, in a preliminary ruling, Mr Justice White permitted the service to call evidence from three expert witnesses who did not give evidence to the Circuit Court. Mr Murray said the case was of some importance to his client and that the appeal concerned a number of issues, including whether the boardwalk was safe and the standard of care to be applied.

He said the service wanted to call evidence from Helen Lawless of the Mountaineering Council of Ireland; Pat Stokes, a health and safety official with the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; and Pat Mellon of the Wicklow Partnership.

Louis McEntagart SC, for Ms Wall, objected to those witnesses. He said their evidence concerned policy relating to hillwalking and the court must “not lose sight” of the fact that the appeal concerned a specific incident where his client tripped on the boardwalk and sustained injuries.

Mr Justice White said the appeal was being treated as a fresh hearing of the case, that the three could give evidence, and that Ms Wall’s counsel could raise objections.

The hearing continues on Thursday.