NI: NI High Court: Woman seriously injured at private party loses claim against venue

A woman who suffered severe lacerations to her leg while attending a masquerade ball in Belle Isle Castle has lost her £100,000 claim against the company owning the popular Fermanagh venue.

In the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice Ben Stephens found that the company was not liable for Ms Brown’s injuries as the ornament upon which the woman fell posed no foreseeable danger.


In November 2013, while attending a 30th birthday party, Ms Leanne Brown (33) fell on a large ceramic urn in the dining room of Belle Isle Castle and sustained severe lacerations to her left groin, right medial thigh and right lower leg, together with a fracture of the anterior cortex of her right tibia.

The large decorative antique ceramic jardinière was in two parts; the lower of which was a stand, on top of which was placed a large ceramic urn. Ms Brown’s injuries were sustained when the urn was dislodged from the stand and fell to the ground. Ms Brown fell onto the broken pieces of the urn, suffering deep lacerations and losing “copious quantities of blood”.

High Court

Ms Brown alleged that Abercorn Estates was guilty of negligence and breach of statutory duty in a number of respects including, in the context of a dining room accommodating some thirty people, many of whom would have consumed alcohol, failing to secure the urn to its stand with cable ties or in the alternative failing to increase the weight and stability of the urn by placing soil or other material in it.

It was suggested that either of these precautions would have prevented the accidental dislodging of the urn from its stand.

It was alleged on behalf of Ms Brown that it was foreseeable that the urn, in the context of this dining facility, was unstable and unsafe and that it should have been secured appropriately or else removed.

Damages, subject to liability, had been agreed at £100,000 plus the amount to be repaid to the Compensation Recovery Unit.

By its defence and counterclaim, Abercorn Estates not only denied liability, but also sought to recover damages of £2,500 from Ms Brown, being the value of the urn, on the basis that she was negligent in causing it to fall and to break – however this counterclaim was not pursued at trial.

The only issue for determination in the High Court was the liability of Abercorn Estates to Ms Brown.


Ms Brown’s evidence was that, in the moments before the accident, she was leaning on the urn to reach a window, assuming that the urn was “one complete blue ornament” rather than two objects which could have been easily dislodged.

Justice Stephens pointed out various inconsistencies in the evidence given by Ms Brown and her husband. As such, Justice Stephens rejected the evidence that Ms Brown was reaching to either open or close the window above the urn, and found that it was more likely that “she leant heavily against the jardinière and then fell horizontally against it, causing the upper part of it to fall on to the ground, where it broke and then, that she fell on to the broken pieces”.

Justice Stephens was satisfied that Ms Brown “was aware that jardinière was an ornamental piece which was clearly not meant to be leant upon”, and that “there was no foreseeable danger, in the context of this dining facility, of the top of this heavy ceramic jardinière becoming detached from the stand”.

In addition, the Court heard that upon returning from the hospital on the morning after the accident, Ms Brown’s husband spoke with the manager of the castle, Mr Andrew Lamont, who described the husband as “being very apologetic and offering to pay for the damage”.

In relation to the actions of Mr Lamont, Justice Stephens was critical of the fact that he “did not give any consideration to reporting the incident under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997”, describing the accident book as an “exercise book”. Notwithstanding these reservations, Justice Stephens described Mr Lamont as an accurate and reliable witness.


Dismissing Ms Brown’s application, Justice Stephens decided that inconsistencies in Ms Brown’s evidence should be seen in the context of the account given by Ms Brown’s husband to Mr Lamont on the morning after the accident, together with the apology and the offer to pay for the damage. Thus it was found that “there was no failure on the part of in not securing the urn to the base with cable ties or in not adding further weight to the urn”.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
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