Friday 18 October 2019

Cleaner who broke wrist after missing step outside bank awarded €20k

Patricia Smith. Picture: Collins Courts
Patricia Smith. Picture: Collins Courts

Saurya Cherfi

A 63-year-old cleaner, who broke her left wrist when she fell after missing a step at a Bank of Ireland branch, has been awarded €20,000 damages in the Circuit Civil Court.

Circuit Court President Mr Justice Raymond Groarke said the layout of the outdoor steps of the bank’s premises at Newlands Cross, Clondalkin, Dublin, where Patricia Smith fell in December 2013, showed that it had never been intended to be accessed by the general public.

Judge Groarke said before it became a branch in 2003, the premises were offices and a business centre.  He said the steps were so close to the exiting security door that they constituted an “old fashioned trap” to people who were distracted in an “ordinary human way.”

The judge said Ms Smith, who had held the door to a customer entering the branch while she was leaving, and then moved while looking backwards, should have kept a better lookout as to where she was walking.  He found her to be one third liable and reduced an initial award of €30,000 damages accordingly.

Ms Smith, of Old Church Drive, Clondalkin, Dublin, had told her barrister Alistair Rutherdale that she did not realise the steps were so close when she left the branch and she missed the last one, landing heavily on her left side.

A member of the bank’s staff had helped her up and brought her to a GP nearby.  Ms Smith later attended the A&E at Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, where X-rays revealed a fracture in her wrist.

She had to wear a cast for more than a month and had been out of work for several weeks.  She had ongoing pain in her wrist and had attended physiotherapy sessions.   She sued the Governor of Bank of Ireland for negligence.  

She alleged the steps, which were only 18 inches away from the door, had been dangerous because they were too close to it.  She also claimed that there should have been a handrail.

The bank denied her allegations in a full defence and alleged that she was guilty of contributory negligence as she had not been looking where she was going.

Judge Groarke said that it was a fact that people would hold doors open to facilitate other customers entering the premises and were often distracted while doing so.

He said the bank ought to have considered that element by reminding its customers, for instance with a yellow nosing, of the steps being there.  He said that Ms Smith was not however absolved from her obligation to look where she was going.

After a short adjournment to allow the parties to determine the amount of damages Ms Smith should be awarded, barrister Paul O’Neill, counsel for the bank, said they had agreed to an award of €30,000, from which one third was deducted.

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