Golfer who lost part of finger in circular-saw accident at his local club wins €100,000 damages

A man who lost part of his left index finger while voluntarily helping to put up timber cladding on the pro-shop of his local golf club has been awarded €101,495 by the High Court.

Ms Justice Niamh Hyland ruled Mark McGroarty (48) was not a paid-up member at the time and could therefore sue Cobh Golf Club in Cork.

Mr McGroarty (48), a scratch golfer, lost part of his finger while assisting a carpenter at the club on June 5, 2015. He had been asked by club captain Nigel Britton to assist the carpenter after his usual assistant worker was unable to make it.

Tony McKeon, a qualified carpenter and club member, asked Mr McGroarty to hold a long plank of timber balanced on a single milk crate while Mr McKeon cut it with a circular electric saw.

While holding it, Mr McKeon lost control of the saw, which made contact with Mr McGroarty’s left hand, the court heard.

Mr McGroarty, of Springfield Park, Cobh, is employed by the Irish Naval Service, and the extensor tendon of his middle finger was also severed. He was airlifted to Cork University Hospital where he underwent an operation to amputate his left index finger.

He sued the four trustees of the club, Diarmuid Kilcullen, Mimi Stack, Stephen McCormack and Christopher Stack, all care of Cobh Golf Club, and Mr McKeon, with an address at Lehenaghmore, Togher, Cork, claiming they owed him a duty of care and their negligence caused his injury.

The defendants denied liability.

The trustees claimed that because he was a member of the club he cannot sue the other members of the golf club. Mr McKeon pleaded in his defence that Mr McGroarty was acting voluntarily in tandem with him (McKeon), the works having been organised by the club captain. He also pleaded contributory negligence by Mr McGroarty.

Mr McGroarty argued he was not a member at the time due to his subscription not having been paid up at the time prescribed by the constitution of the club. He was therefore entitled to recover damages against the defendants.

Ms Justice Hyland ruled that the constitution of the club, properly interpreted, requires that a member’s subscription is to be paid by January 31 each year, failing which membership shall be deemed to be terminated.

She said it was true the practice of the club was to ignore this rule and to treat persons, including Mr McGroarty, as members even when the subscription had not been paid.

She noted that Mr McGroarty had entered club competitions and represented the club on teams playing interclub tournaments, although he had paid only a small part of his subscription by January 31, 2015. He had been a member since 2010.

However, she said, following a decision in a previous case, the rules of clubs cannot be taken to be altered by implication, including by the practice of a club, in circumstances where those rules represent a contract between all of the members.

It was also in circumstances where the members commit their efforts and resources to the club on the basis of the rules as they exist at the time of someone joining.

The club’s acceptance of a payment by Mr McGroarty – though less than the subscription amount – after the termination date does not alter the situation, she said.

There was no evidence the club had reinstated him after his membership was terminated, or that this payment was a reinstatement payment, she said.

Nor was there any evidence of a waiver by the club of its requirements in relation to payment of the subscription.

She found he was not a member of the club at the relevant date and is therefore entitled to recover damages against the defendants.

The judge said the appropriate sum to compensate for his pain and suffering to date and into the future is €100,000.

In this case, because of the excellent support that his employer provided to him, he has not suffered any loss of earnings and he had not incurred significant costs for counselling since that has been provided free of charge by the Navy, she said.

Therefore, as the claim for special damages is only €1,495, this brought the total award to €101,495.