Hillwalkers should be responsible for actions during ‘dangerous sport’

Case centres on Teresa Wall being awarded €40,000 damages over fall on Wicklow Way

Teresa Wall was awarded €40,000 damages after falling while walking the Wicklow Way. Photograph: Courts Collins.

Teresa Wall was awarded €40,000 damages after falling while walking the Wicklow Way. Photograph: Courts Collins.

 

Hillwalkers should take personal responsibility for their own actions while participating in what can be a dangerous sport, the High Court has been told.

Helen Lawless, the hillwalking, access and conservation officer with Mountaineering Ireland, representing some 180 walking clubs with 11,800 members here, made the remarks when giving evidence in an appeal over a €40,000 damages award to a hillwalker.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) disputes any liability for the injuries suffered by Teresa Wall and has appealed a Circuit Court decision in her favour.

Ms Wall claims she tripped and fell when her foot snagged in a hole on a wooden boardwalk placed on lands by the NPWS that form part of the 130km Wicklow Way. The incident occurred close to the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail near Roundwood on August 6th, 2013.

The appeal is being heard by Mr Justice Michael White who said it raises “complex matters of law”.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Ms Lawless told Brian Murray SC, for the NPWS, hillwalkers have a personal responsibility to know what surface they are putting their footing on, whether it is rock, bog or on a boardwalk.

Wicklow Way

Ms Lawless said she was very familiar with the Wicklow Way, including the 2km section of boardwalk where the incident took place. That boardwalk was on the most elevated part of the trail and was laid down more than a decade ago, she said.

She considered it was “solid under foot,” “fit for purpose” and had “not failed” on a trail deemed strenuous.

Under cross examination by David McParland BL, for Ms Wall, Ms Lawless said she considered, after 15 years ,the boardwalk is safe for hillwalkers to use.

She agreed members of Mountaineering Ireland took to social media after the Circuit Court ruling to express “very clear” opinions they accept responsibility when go on the Wicklow way or in the mountains in general.

In submissions, Louis McEntagart SC, for Ms Wall, said the 1995 Occupiers Liability Act creates a duty on occupiers who place on lands a structure such as a boardwalk for use by recreational users like his client. That duty was to maintain the structure in a safe condition and the boardwalk was not in a safe condition on the date of the accident, he said.

Stitches

Ms Wall (60) from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin, sued after suffering a gash to her right knee which required seven stitches. She claimed the NPWS permitted a defect to be present in the boardwalk where the timber had rotted away, created a tripping hazard, left the boardwalk in a unsafe condition and created a public nuisance at the site.

The NPWS denied liability and pleaded Mrs Wall contributed to her injuries by not looking where she was going and was the author of her own misfortune.

At Dublin Circuit Court last April, Judge Jacqueline Linnane ruled in favour of Mrs Wall after finding reasonable care had not been taken to maintain the boardwalk in a safe condition and this failure was responsible for Mrs Wall’s injuries.

The hearing is expected to conclude on Wednesday with judgment reserved.