Wednesday 17 July 2019

'It wasn't our fault' - Wright Group on defending customer's broken ankle claim, and how insurance closed well-known nightclub

Ewan McDonald, COO of Michael JF Wright Hospitality Group
Pictures by Owen Breslin
Ewan McDonald, COO of Michael JF Wright Hospitality Group Pictures by Owen Breslin
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

One of Ireland's leading hospitality groups has revealed how it's established a risk department and invested in top quality CCTV to help fight spurious compensation claims.

Michael JF Wright Hospitality Group runs a number of bars, restaurants and food halls across Dublin and in an effort to tackle frivolous claims, the company set up a risk department headed by an ex-garda.

Earlier this year, the Wright Group made the decision to shut well-known nightclub the Wright Venue in Swords, north Dublin.

But while the venue may have closed its doors in January, its battle against personal injury claims is likely to continue well into the future.

Mr McDonald has been COO with the Wright Group for a year and a half Photo: Owen Breslin
Mr McDonald has been COO with the Wright Group for a year and a half Photo: Owen Breslin

The Wright Venue opened in the height of the recession and it was announced earlier this year that it would no longer trade as a club.

A major factor in the decision by CEO Michael Wright to shut down the venue was insurance costs.

The premium was a hefty six-figure sum and this week, the club was in the Circuit Civil Court defending a compensation claim after a customer broke her ankle in the bathroom a number of years ago.

Speaking to Independent.ie about the case, Chief Operations Officer of Michael Wright Hospitality Group, Ewan McDonald, said they are determined to tackle Ireland's 'compo culture'.

"We weren’t negligent in any way. It’s a shame she broke her ankle and we wouldn’t wish that on any of our patrons, but accidents happen and they always happen, but that doesn't mean it's always the licensee's fault," he said.

"She claimed the floor was wet but three or four people walked past her and there were witnesses to say the floor wasn't wet.

"We had excellent CCTV, all our cleaning sheets and a toilet attendant there when it happened so we were lucky we had all our ducks in a row. She was wearing high heels and simply fell."

The woman's claim was dismissed in court on Monday and costs awarded against her.

In a statement to Independent.ie, CEO Michael Wright said: "I am delighted with this result. People need to take responsibility for themselves."

For the Wright Group, this is just one incident of many across its various businesses.

"The problem is these court cases take so long to come to fruition. They happen in 2012 and 2013 and they only come to court now. It’s a transient business, so a lot of the time staff or manager or witnesses will be gone," Mr McDonald said.

"In our case we have a HR and risk department that we’ve set up so we are lucky we can afford to have a risk department monitoring all our premises. We have to make sure everything that can be done to safeguard our patrons is being done.

"Due to the fact we have CCTV and good procedures, we are fighting every claim that comes to us.

"It’s gotten to the point where insurance companies are charging enormous premiums and insure themselves against having to pay out against any of that by making the excess on the policy so great that it nearly covers the insurance claim.

"We won’t pay out if we have done nothing wrong."

Mr McDonald believes the nightlife industry has become an "easy target" for "those who want to ride the gravy train".

It is part of the reason the Wright Group has shifted its focus to the food industry.

"The nightclub industry is being hit very hard. I think we are going to see more nightclubs closing. In the week we closed, Lillie's Bordello and District 8 also closed.

"No dance floor, no late-night DJs, no opening until 2.30am in the morning... we are starting to focus on food halls now. The nightlife industry will close if the Government doesn't do something about it. People will always want to socialise, and food and drink culture is very important here. People travel to Ireland to experience it and I think it's something we need to protect.

"I think people need to realise that if they are going to make a spurious claim, they need to be aware they will end up getting stuck with thousands in legal fees."

The COO recalled an incident at one of the Wright Group's venues where a man approached them for money after his daughter's hair caught fire.

However, after reviewing the CCTV, it turned out she had been smoking and when she leaned across to use her friend's lighter, her hair ignited.

"Once he viewed the CCTV he apologised... there has to be some personal responsibility. I think what people feel now is any accident that happens outside any sort of commercial or licensed premises, they feel it’s the person’s fault... but once an accident happens on a premises, people think they are entitled to money."

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