Wednesday 29 January 2020

Woman who sued partner's parents over lost eye is awarded €200k in damages

Elaine Newman
Elaine Newman

Tim Healy

A woman who sued her partner's parents after she lost an eye in a household accident is entitled to €200,000 damages, the Court of Appeal ruled.

Elaine Newman (32) had lost a High Court action arising out of the accident at the home of Marie and Patrick Cogan at Delganstown, Delvin, Co Westmeath, on June 22, 2007.

She appealed that decision.

In a unanimous judgment, a three-judge Court of Appeal overturned that decision and said she was entitled to €200,000.

Ms Newman's eye was catastrophically damaged when her partner, Emmett Cogan, fell and a piece of frozen meat in his hand hit and smashed a glass panels in a door.  This caused pieces of glass to hit her eye.

Ms Newman, originally from Mullingar, claimed Mr and Mrs Cogan failed, under the Occupiers Liability Act 1995, to take reasonable care to ensure that she (Newman) as a visitor to the house did not suffer injury by reason of any existing danger.

In 2012 the High Court dismissed her case on grounds that the Cogans could not have been reasonably said to have failed in their duty of care by choosing the type of non-shatterproof glass which was in the door.

Patrick Cogan, a farmer, had replaced the glass himself in 2000/01, the glass having been broken on a number of occasions.

Evidence was given that glass panels inserted in the door by Mr Cogan Snr  was ordinary glass and was not suitable for use in doors if broken.

Giving the Appeal Court's decision Ms Justice Mary Irvine said Mr Cogan Snrs' duty of care as occupier of the premises when he changed the glass in the door was to carry out the task with the level of care and skill expected of a reasonably competent tradesman.

Many householders consider themselves capable of carrying out such tasks, the judge said.

When they do so they assume a duty to all who might be subsequently be affected by their actions to carry out the task with the care and skill required to complete the job safely.

If a visitor suffers an injury as a result of a danger caused by an act or omission of an occupier, liability for such a consequence will be judged on against the standard of care that would have been expected of a competent tradesman asked to carry out the same task, the judge said.

In this case, evidence was given that no reasonably competent tradesman, if asked to replace the glass in the door in 2000 /2001, would have used anything other than safety glass, she said.

Regrettably, that was a standard not met met by Mr Cogan Snr when he undertook to repair the door himself, the Judge said.

In the circumstances the High Court was obliged to find that the defendants were liable to Ms Newman because the glass installed did not comply to the standard required.

The Cogans did not contest her status as a visitor but denied liability.

Before the hearing of the High Court action, the parties had agreed that in the event of liability being found, Ms Newman was to get €200,000.

In her action, the court heard Emmett Cogan, who was on crutches at the time of the incident,  had come into the farmhouse after getting a 2lb bag of meat from the freezer. 

He came in behind Ms Newman, when he tripped and fell over clutter in a porch area.  The hand with the meat in it crashed through a glass panel in the door with considerable force.

Ms Newman had just turned around as the glass shattered and a shard or shards of glass shot into her right eye.

As a result, she lost the eye and now has an artificial eye.

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