Hill-walker stripped of €40,000 award faces legal bill

Circuit Court decision to grant Teresa Wall damages over Wicklow Way fall overturned

Teresa Wall, of Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Dublin. Photograph: Courts Collins.

Teresa Wall, of Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Dublin. Photograph: Courts Collins.

 

A hill-walker who saw a €40,000 damages award for injuries suffered in a fall on a boardwalk on the Wicklow Way overturned has now been told she will have to pay her own costs for the case.

The costs are expected to be substantial given the matter ran for a number of days in the High Court after the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) appealed the Circuit Court award to Co Dublin resident Teresa Wall.

Mr Justice Michael White last month allowed an appeal by the NPWS, which placed the boardwalk on which Ms Wall fell. The decision has significant implications for Ireland’s national parks and the future of the Wicklow Way.

The NPWS was concerned that if the Circuit Court decision stood, the route might disintegrate due to private landowners not permitting walkers on their property.

In a significant judgment concerning the duty of care of landowners to hillwalkers, Mr Justice White rejected Ms Wall’s argument that a trip hazard is the same whatever the location. He also found contributory negligence by Ms Wall in relation to her fall.

Ms Wall, of Rathingle Cottages, Swords, claimed she tripped and fell after her foot snagged in a hole on a railway sleeper that was part of a boardwalk near the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail on August 6th, 2013.

Stitches

She suffered a gash to her right knee which required seven stitches and was in pain for some time afterwards. After a Circuit Court judge found the NPWS negligent and awarded Ms Wall €40,000 damages, the service successfully appealed the matter to the High Court.

When the matter returned before the judge on Friday to deal with costs issues, the judge was told agreement had been reached between the sides on costs. Counsel for the NPWS said it had taken into account the judge’s suggestion that the sides might come to an agreement on costs.

In light of that suggestion, and because of the benefit of the judgment to the NPWS, the sides had agreed the Circuit Court costs order made in favour of Ms Wall should be vacated and both sides should pay their own costs of the High Court appeal. The judge made those orders along with a formal order allowing the NPWS appeal.

‘Genuine’ person

In his judgment last month, Mr Justice White described Ms Wall as a “genuine” person who suffered injuries in the fall that greatly affected her “active lifestyle”. She had claimed the 1995 Occupiers Liability Act imposed, when a land occupier places a structure on the land for recreational use, a duty of care to maintain that structure in a safe condition.

Due to vigilance expected from hill walkers on moderate mountain trails, the standard of care has to be adapted to the conditions, including the isolated location of the boardwalk and the social utility it provides, he held.

The NPWS was not negligent by not filling in the indentations in the boardwalk or replacing the sleepers with new ones, he found.

Rejecting arguments a trip hazard is the same no matter what the location, he also found a “high degree of negligence” on Ms Wall’s part due to not looking at the surface of the boardwalk when she fell.