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'truthful witness' Woman who sued her daughter’s school after falling on steps loses case


Judge's hammer on wooden table

Judge's hammer on wooden table

Judge's hammer on wooden table

A High Court judge has dismissed a damages action by a woman who sued her daughter’s national school over ankle injuries suffered after she fell on the last of a flight of steps leading to its playground. 

A core argument made by 36-year-old Ciara Finlay in her case was that the steps should have had hand-rails.

Scoil Mhuire National School, Ardee, Co Louth, denied liability and Mr Justice Bernard Barton, in his recently published judgment, ruled it had no liability to Ms Finlay arising from the accident on the morning of August 30, 2017.

The judge said Ms Finlay was a “wholly decent and genuine” witness who gave her evidence in a "truthful and straightforward" manner and he did not doubt her belief a handrail would have made a difference.

However, having accepted evidence from the school principal and deputy principal, an impartial application of the law to the facts did not warrant a finding of negligence by the school or breach of the common duty of care, he ruled.

Particularly against a background where the static condition of the steps was not alleged to have caused Ms Finlay to lose her footing, and was unlikely to have been the cause of a slip or trip and fall, the retrofitting of handrails would amount to “a counsel of perfection”, even though the fitting of rails would have been relatively simple and inexpensive, he said.

His judgment was not to be taken as laying down a general rule or proposition that an occupier is not required to fit or retrofit handrails to external steps constructed separate and apart from a building, he stressed.

There may well be other circumstances in which such a precaution ought reasonably to be taken, he said.

The law did not require the school “to guard against possibilities” but rather to guard against that which is “reasonably forseeable” and likely to occur as a result of the defendant’s acts or omissions.

Earlier, he noted Ms Finlay had accompanied her daughter to school on August 30th 2017.

The child was apprehensive about starting fifth class that day and she had accompanied her to the playground where the child met her classmates.

The judge said it was a bright, dry day and Ms Finlay had nearly reached the bottom of a flight of seven steps leading from the playground when she lost her footing and fell forward, landing face down on the ground near the foot of the steps.

Ms Finlay had said she was familiar with the steps and did not know why she fell but there was nothing to grab on to when she did so.

He said the school principal had given evidence of her belief that no accidents or incidents involving the steps had been recorded in the school’s log book during her tenure at the school since 1984.

Ms Finlay suffered fractures to her right and left ankles.

Her right ankle was in a plaster of Paris cast for eight weeks and her left ankle was strapped. She continued to experience soreness in her right ankle and walking long distances is problematic.

Apart from intermittent ankle discomfort, the medical prognosis for the future is her ankle injuries should not cause any disability in the long term and any ongoing discomfort should respond to physiotherapy and occasional analgesia, he said.

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Online Editors