The High Court recently overturned a Circuit Court decision whereby an award of €40,000 was made to a hill walker who sustained injuries while walking the Wicklow Way. It appears that the walker in question tripped and fell after her foot snagged in a hole in an old railway sleeper. The plaintiff had sued the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) which had
placed the boardwalk on the lands.
The High Court found that there had been contributory negligence on the part of the walker. There is no doubt that the case raises complex questions including for instance if the Parks Service could allow the sleepers to deteriorate before being replaced. The NPWS was not found to be negligent by not filling in the holes in the boardwalk or replacing the sleepers with new ones.
The case is significant not just for legal reasons but also in terms of the NPWS providing walkways through scenic routes such as the Wicklow Way. However, users of such scenic routes must understand and accept that they also have a responsibility for their own safety and well-being and where injury is sustained while using such routes does not necessarily mean that there is an immediate responsibility on the NPWS.
It is interesting to note that the walker in question did suffer an injury which required seven stitches and she was in significant pain. However this did not prevent the High Court from reversing the decision of the Circuit Court and finding a degree of contributory negligence on the part of the walker where the walker should have been taking care for her own safety and wellbeing.
Mountaineering Ireland stated that the case “reinforces the long established principal that people engaging in outdoor recreational activities must take responsibility for their own safety”. Equally, the Irish Farmers Association said that the outcome of the case clearly shows there is an onus on the walker to take reasonable care for their own safety and would also help ease the concern of farmers.
In a subsequent development in relation to the costs issue the Plaintiff has also been told that she will have to pay her own costs for the case. The costs are expected to be substantial given that the matter ran for a number of days in the High Court after the NPWS appealed the Circuit Court award.
Once again, this case illustrates that injury alone does not justify an award of damages and where there is contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, they are at risk of having damages substantially reduced and the added sting in the tail of paying their own costs and perhaps that of the defendants.
Enjoy your walk