Court of Appeal: General damages reduced by €125,000 for man who suffered multiple injuries in elevator accident

Court of Appeal: General damages reduced by €125,000 for man who suffered multiple injuries in elevator accident

The Court of Appeal has significantly reduced an award of damages for a man who suffered multiple injuries in an accident that was described as “the stuff of nightmares”. The man had been injured in an elevator which had fallen three floors after a cable snapped.

On appeal, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan held that the original €375,000 award for general damages was too high and reduced the total to €250,000. The main issue in the case was the appropriate compensation for multiple injuries and the proportionality of the total damages award.


In 2011, the plaintiff was 33 years old and had attended a wedding in Killarney. He returned to the Killarney Plaza Hotel with members of the wedding party and called the lift from the underground car park to go to the reception. As the elevator reached the reception floor, it failed to dock and suddenly fell three floors below.

All occupants of the lift suffered serious injuries, including the plaintiff’s wife. There were “scenes of devastation and panic ensued”. There was also a long delay in rescuing the victims, which contributed to the psychological suffering of the individuals.

The plaintiff suffered headline injuries to his back and legs, where he suffered undisplaced compression fractures and hairline fractures. He also suffered fractures in his ankles and heels. There were also many other minor injuries. The combination of injuries meant that the plaintiff endured a very difficult recovery as he was largely immobile. Further, the plaintiff was deeply traumatised by the accident, suffering from PTSD and a depressive reaction.

The plaintiff was a highly qualified professional in the pharmaceutical industry and he only returned to full time work two years post-accident. He successfully applied for several promotions in the proceeding years.

Over time, the plaintiff developed more severe pain in his knees, which became the dominant issues leading to trial in the High Court, although his back was also symptomatic. The plaintiff’s medical expert conducted a number of reviews with the plaintiff, where he was initially assessed as having made a good recovery overall.

However, the plaintiff received surgery on his knees in 2015 to repair meniscal tears. In February 2017, the plaintiff’s knees had not recovered and he complained of significant pain. The experts felt that the plaintiff would ultimately require a knee replacement in his right knee before the age of 50 and would need repeated knee injections in the meantime.

Liability was not contested in the case and the High Court assessed the plaintiff’s general damages at €125,000 for pain and suffering to date, €175,000 for pain and suffering into the future and €75,000 from loss of opportunity. The defendants appealed the decision.

Court of Appeal

The main issue which arose on the appeal was the proportionality of the general damages award, having regard to the maximum award that would be allowed by the courts and the multiple injuries suffered by the plaintiff. Further, the court was required to consider whether a general damages award should be influenced by a substantial special damages sum.

Dealing with the latter issue, the court held that a court was not free to award a higher sum than the maximum general damages to take account of the absence of significant special damages. The court cited Sinnott v. Quinnsworth [1984] ILRM 523 and Nolan v. Wirenski [2016] 1 IR 461, where it was held that general damages should not be reduced where a substantial special damages award was made. In other words, general damages were to be assessed entirely independently of special damages.

The court also considered the concept of the maximum figure for general damages and whether it represented an artificial cap on damages. Applying Morrissey v. HSE and Ors. [2020] IESC 6, it was noted that maximum damages of €500,000 did not represent an artificial cap, but was simply the maximum appropriate value of the most serious injuries. It was also noted that this maximum could apply to different types of injuries.

The court held that the “sliding scale” of damage assessment was established in law and that the Book of Quantum and Personal Injuries Guidelines achieved consistency, predictability and proportionality in damages awards. However, it was accepted that in complex multiple injuries cases, the Guidelines could be “considerably more problematic” to apply.

Ordinarily, a court would be required to consider the most significant injury and adjust the value upwards based on the other injuries. However, it was observed that this approach was premised on a trial judge being able to identify one particular injury as the most significant.

The court stated that whatever injuries a plaintiff suffered, “the court must strive to take a holistic view of the plaintiff and endeavour to place the plaintiff’s particular constellation of injuries and their cumulative effect on the plaintiff within the spectrum in a way that is proportionate both to the maximum and awards made to other plaintiffs”.

In this regard, Mr Justice Noonan held that there was nothing wrong in principle with the trial judge providing a global figure for damages rather than breaking the award down into individual categories.

Finally, the court went on to consider comparator cases and the argument that €300,000 in general damages was far too high when compared to the available maximum of €500,000. The court noted that an award of €170,000 was upheld in Zhang v. Farrell [2021] IECA 62 and €175,000 was awarded instead of €210,000 in Quinn v. Masivlaniec [2021] IECA 247.


The court credited the plaintiff for his recovery and his adherence to medical advice. He had a minimal limits on carrying out normal activities and had three children with his wife. However, he did suffer very serious injuries and would have to undergo painful surgery in the future on his knees.

A €300,000 award would normally be reserved for cases of permanent disability, the court said. Having regard to the plaintiff’s recovery, the court held that the appropriate award was €200,000, being €125,000 for past pain and suffering and €75,000 in the future.

The court also accepted that the plaintiff suffered a loss of opportunity due to his absence from work and future prospects. Given the plaintiff’s high earning capacity, the court assessed damages at €50,000. Accordingly, the total damages awarded were €250,000.

Meehan v. Shawcove Limited and Ors. [2022] IECA 208

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