Hillwalker’s €40k Award for Wicklow Way Fall Overturned
The High Court has overturned a judgement to award a hillwalker €40,000 for injuries she received. She sustained after she tripped and fell on a boardwalk on the Wicklow Way. Teresa Wall fell during a walk in the Wicklow Mountains in 2013.
In his judgment, judge Michael White said he was satisfied to dismiss the damages claim by Teresa Wall. She claimed she tripped and fell after her 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 sued the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who placed the boardwalk on the lands. Last year, Circuit Court judge Jacqueline Linnane found the NWPS was negligent. He awarded a judgement in favour of Mrs. Wall and ordered NPWS to pay her €40,000 damages. The NPWS, who denied negligence, appealed to the High Court.
Judge White said Ms Wall was “a genuine person” who had suffered injuries that had greatly affected her “active lifestyle”.
However, in his judgement he said when considering “the mechanism of her fall” the judge found there was “high degree of negligence” on her part. He firther determined that “she was not looking at the surface of the boardwalk when she fell”.
The judge added the case raised a number of complex legal issues.
After considering all the points raised he was satisfied that the NWPS was not negligent. He said was allowing the NPWS’s appeal.
The judge adjourned the matter for two weeks to allow the parties consider his decision.
He asked lawyers for the NWPS to consider Ms. Wall’s situation before making any application for their legal costs.
The decision has significant implications for Ireland’s national parks and for the future of the Wicklow Way itself. Concerns were expressed that if the Circuit Court’s judgement was upheld the popular walking route would disintegrate. There was a belief that private land owners would withdraw their consent allowing walkers on their property.
In her action Ms Wall, from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin, claimed the fall happened around 4.00pm on 6 August 2013.
She said she sustained a gash to her right knee, which required seven stitches, and was left in significant pain for some time afterwards.
She said the NPWS was negligent and in breach of its duty of care towards her.
The NPWS also permitted a defect to be present in the boardwalk where the timber had rotted away. This she claimed created a tripping hazard and left the boardwalk in an unsafe condition.
The claims were denied. The NPWS had argued that Ms Wall contributed to her injuries. They claimed that she was not looking where she was going and was the author of her own misfortune.
She had participated in an activity known to have risks. The NWPS added it was not responsible for anything that may have happened to her.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys welcomed the decision. She said her officials will “now take time to consider the details of Justice White’s ruling. They will evaluate its future implications for our National Parks and their recreational remit”.
Ruling welcomed by IFA and Mountaineering Ireland
Noting today’s judgment, the Irish Farmers’ Association said the judgement should help ease the concerns of farmers.
IFA Hill Committee Chairman Pat Dunne said: “The finding that an onus exists on the walker to have a duty of care is an important recognition from a landowner’s perspective.
“Public liability insurance cover is provided to private landowners who permit waymarked walking trails to be developed across their land. The government must fulfill its commitment in the Programme for Government to increase funding to €4m and bring in an additional 2,000 farmers.”
He continued: “While the judgment relates to property owned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it also has relevance for private land owners, mainly farmers, where hill walkers ramble off designated routes.”
Mountaineering Ireland said the judgment will provide reassurance to hill walkers and to many landowners, public and private who permit access to their land.
“It reinforces the long established principle that people engaging in outdoor recreational activities must take responsibility for their own safety.”