A court award of €40,000 in damages to a hillwalker who was injured when she fell on a rotting boardwalk on the Wicklow Way has been criticised as "simplistic" by the Mountaineering Council of Ireland.
"We are very disappointed by it," the council's spokeswoman Helen Lawless said. "It is not helpful and very simplistic and does not recognise that risk is inherent in hillwalking or the simple fact that accidents do happen."
She said it was the council ’s understanding the judgment would be appealed, although a spokesman for the National Parks and Wildlife Service declined to confirm an appeal would be lodged. He said the ruling would have to be studied in detail first.
Dublin Circuit Civil Court heard 59-year-old Teresa Wall from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin suffered a gash to her right knee which required seven stitches.
Ms Wall told the court she had previously climbed in the Himalayas and been to Mount Everest base camp, but she could no longer go hill climbing or run marathons.
Judge Jacqueline Linnane said it was clear from photographs produced in evidence that the boardwalk had been made up of second-hand, wooden railway sleepers that were badly rotted with protruding staples loosely holding down chicken wire. Reasonable care had not been taken to maintain the boardwalk in a safe condition, she said.
Ms Wall was wearing appropriate clothes, boots and using walking sticks, she added. There had been no contributory negligence on her part.
Barrister Kevin D’Arcy, for the State Claims Agency, told the court there had been hundreds of falls over the years by walkers in the country’s various national parks, but this was the first time the service had been sued for negligence and breach of duty.
The mountaineering council's concerns were echoed by Roger Garland of the walkers umbrella group Keep Ireland Open. He said the group was disappointed with the judgement and said it could have serious implications for the future of boardwalks "which are absolutely essential in Co Wicklow which has to cope with a large and ever-increasing number of walkers."
He said the group was concerned that this decision would give landowners an excuse to further restrict access to land for walking.
“As a matter of urgency, the NPWS should carry out the necessary repairs to the entire system of boardwalks and also erect suitable signage disclaiming responsibility,” he added.
* This article was amended to add further comments from Keep Ireland Open.