By Tim Healy
A man injured when he fell on the wet and slippery tiles in the porch of his rented council home has failed to prove the local authority was “in any way responsible” for the accident, the High Court has found.
Thomas Keegan (53), McNeil Drive, Cranmore, Co Sligo, was originally awarded €105,650 when his action against Sligo Co Council was determined at a sitting of the High Court in Sligo in 2017.
However, following an appeal, the Court of Appeal (CoA) ordered the issue of liability be retried.
Following the retrial, Mr Justice John Jordan found it was “artificial” for Mr Keegan to suggest he was a visitor of the council-owned house in Cranmore which he rented and occupied.
Mr Keegan, who previously worked as a paver, claimed the slippiness of the porch’s terracotta tiling and the angle of the porch to face the prevailing wind and rain in Sligo created a particular hazard.
It was alleged the open porch was constantly exposed to being wet and that this exacerbated the problem caused by the slippy mosaic tiles.
In the original hearing before Mr Justice Anthony Barr in Sligo, the court found liability in favour of Mr Keegan and that there was no contributory negligence on his part.
On appeal by the council, the CoA decided not to interfere with the award of damages, but it directed that the issue of liability be retried.
Mr Justice Jordan said the accident occurred on November 18, 2013, when Mr Keegan was returning home sometime after 5pm after visiting a number of pubs in which he had consumed five pints of Guinness. He suffered a significant injury to his left ankle, with X-rays revealing a fracture to his left distal tibia and fibula, the judge noted.
The council did not argue the consumption of this level of drink was an act of contributory negligence but argued it as a factor in regard to Mr Keegan’s duty to take reasonable care for his own safety and in his conflicting accounts of how the accident occurred, the judge said.
Having heard expert evidence, the court was satisfied the unglazed tiles did not pose a danger on the premises.
It was not known what, if any, dirt or grime or other matter was present on the tiled surface when he slipped, although it found it was probably wet, the judge said.
Mr Keegan failed to prove the council was “in any way responsible” for the accident, the judge continued.
Mr Keegan’s counsel had further submitted that the council was an “occupier” of the property within the meaning of the word as set out in Occupier’s Liability Act, 1995, said the judge.
It was also contended that Mr Keegan was attending the dwelling as of right due to being a lawful tenant of the council and that he was, therefore, a “visitor” within the meaning of the word in the 1995 Act.
While noting it was not necessary to determine, on account of finding there had been no breach of duty, Mr Justice Jordan found this to be a “flawed” assumption and noted that Mr Keegan, as a resident of the property since 2004, had control over the condition and cleanliness of the porch surface.
By reason of the letting agreement, and the level of control of the premises the council retained, it was correct to say the council was an occupier, but Mr Keegan, too, was “clearly” an occupier, said the judge.
The fact that they were together occupiers does not give Mr Keegan a cause of action against the council under the Occupiers Liability Act, he added.