Sunway Travel has been ordered by the High Court to pay €12,000 to a man and his young son over an accident in which the boy was injured by an aparthotel room ceiling fan that was too low.
Mr Justice Cian Ferriter awarded €12,096 to Kevin Heeney and his eight-year-old son Mason over the accident in their Tenerife aparthotel room in August 2015. The award comprises €8,500 compensation for the injury to Mason who was left with a small lifelong scar behind his right ear and €3,596 for the cost of the two-week holiday itself.
Mr Heeney, Corofin House, Clare Village, Malahide Road, Dublin, last April lost an action over the accident in the Circuit Court against Sunway Travel Ltd, trading as Sunway Holidays. Mr Heeney claimed it disrupted the family's entire package holiday.
The Circuit Court found it was an accident for which no one could be held responsible. Mr Heeney appealed to the High Court.
In the appeal, Mr Justice Ferriter was told the accident happened on the third day of the holiday when Mr Heeney picked up Mason, who was nearly three at the time, to comfort him because he was crying.
Mr Heeney, who is six feet three inches tall, didn’t realise he was under the fan and in the lifting movement, lifted the child up above his head and then heard a bang where one of the blades of the ceiling fan hit Mason on the back of the head. The fan was six feet 9.5 inches above the floor.
Mr Heeney said there was “blood everywhere” and Mason was distressed. He and his wife immediately rushed down to reception with Mason where aparthotel staff arranged for a taxi to take them to the local GP who bandaged Mason’s head and got an ambulance to bring them to hospital.
Mason required three stitches behind his ear and the family had to return to the hospital before the end of the holiday to have the stitches removed.
Mr Heeney told the court that on two occasions before the accident he informed aparthotel staff the fan was too low or dangerous. The first time was after he himself hit his fingers off the fan when he was putting on a T-shirt.
On each occasion, he was told there was no other accommodation but the family was moved to air-conditioned accommodation following the accident.
The Heeney side, and their expert, argued this was a foreseeable accident, particularly when the problem had twice been brought to the attention of staff.
Sunway argued there had been no improper performance of its obligations and Mr Heeney had not discharged the burden of demonstrating there had been a lack of reasonable skill and care in relation to the height of the ceiling fan. It was also argued it was entirely Mr Heeney’s fault.
In Mr Justice Ferriter’s view, the accident was foreseeable as a matter of law as the very thing which had been communicated by Mr Heeney to the defendant as being a hazard – the low level of the fan – proved to be a hazard. It also proved to be so in respect of the perfectly normal act of a father instinctively lifting a child up, including, as often happens when lifting a child, lifting the child somewhat above his head.
“Clearly, Mr Heeney did not go looking to cause the accident to Mason,” said the judge.
“In so far as it was contended by the defendant that the ceiling fan could not represent a foreseeable hazard to a small child, given the height of the small child relative to the height of the fan, that to my mind ignores the reality of life which is that many parents will instinctively lift their two- or three-year-old children up to the head height of the parent and often beyond in order to soothe them,” he said.