High Court: Labourer who broke ankle at property rented from Sligo Council is awarded over €100k

Four CourtsA man described as someone who worked in manual labouring jobs all his life, and who broke his ankle on the front porch of a house he rented from Sligo County Council, has been awarded €105,650 in damages.

Mr Justice Barr accepted the evidence of the man’s engineer that the tiles used on the front porch were inappropriate for exterior use, and that the Council was liable to the man pursuant to the Occupier’s Liability Act 1995

The accident

The Court heard that in November 2013, Thomas Keegan, 50, slipped on a wet exposed porch at the front of his house; suffering a “pilon fracture” to his left ankle which required the insertion (and subsequent removal) of two plates into his ankle joint.

Mr Keegan’s surgeon submitted that, as a result of the accident, he developed osteoarthritis in the ankle joint.

Mr Keegan was cross examined in relation to the amount of alcohol that he had consumed on the day in question, however Justice Barr emphasised that Mr Keegan was “a man who has worked in manual labouring jobs all his life”, and declined to make any adverse finding against him having regard to the five pints which he candidly admitted to having consumed that day.

Inappropriate surface

The Court heard that Mr Keegan was a tenant to Sligo County Council as the housing authority since 2004. It was accepted by all parties that Mr Keegan was not entitled to carry out works to the property – and was instructed to report any complaints or problems to the Council, which would carry out works as were deemed necessary.

The surface of the porch was made up of mosaic tiles – and the essential issue was whether the tiles were appropriate for use on an exposed exterior porch. Mr Keegan maintained he made complaints to various members of staff at the council, however this was denied by the council.

Mr Keegan’s engineer was of the view that the “semi-glazed tiles” were inappropriate and unsafe for use in an exposed exterior porch, because they would become slippery and dangerous when wet.

To the contrary, the Council’s engineer submitted that they were unglazed tiles and as such were perfectly adequate for use at the house.

There was broad agreement between the engineers that having tested the slip resistance of the surface of the tiles; the tiles posed a moderate risk of slipping when wet; but they disagreed that this finding made the tiles inappropriate for use at the locus of the accident.

Justice Barr stated that he preferred the evidence of Mr Keegan’s engineer; having regard to photographic evidence before the court that there was some form of glazing on the surface of the tiles. The fact that there was “very little, or no wear and tear evident on the surface of the tiles, either caused by pedestrian traffic, cleaning, or weathering”; indicated that the surface of the tiles was probably treated with some form of glazing.

Furthermore, Justice Barr accepted the evidence of Mr Keegan’s engineer that “providing tiles on an exterior south-west facing porch” was inappropriate for use in such circumstances, and that unglazed tiles with ridges or dimples should have been used.

Justice Barr added that “[w]hile these tiles may have been thought suitable when the houses were constructed in 1977, it is clear that their use has all but disappeared in the estate”. Also noting that there were only nine houses out of a total of 62 inspected with such tiles in the estate; Justice Barr was of the opinion that current safety requirements would mandate that these tiles were inappropriate for used in an exposed porch.

Occupier’s Liability Act 1995

Holding that the tiles were inappropriate for use in an exterior porch, Justice Barr was also satisfied that the Council had to be seen as the occupier of the premises within the meaning of the Occupier’s Liability Act 1995. Mr Keegan, as tenant, was a visitor on the property within the meaning of the Occupier’s Liability Act 1995; and the use of the tiles constituted a breach of the common duty of care owed by the defendant to Mr Keegan under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1995.

Furthermore, the use of these tiles also rendered the house unfit for human habitation and as such the Council was in breach of the implied covenant in such tenancy agreements (Siney v. Dublin Corporation and Burke v. Dublin Corporation considered).

Finding the defendant liable for the injuries sustained, Justice Barr accepted Mr Keegan’s evidence that he continued to experience pain in the ankle joint, and was required to use a stick at times.

Justice Bar awarded Mr Keegan a total of €105,650 in damages, to include:

  • €50,000 for general damages to date
  • €55,000 for general damages into the future.
  • €650 in special damages
  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News