Monday 15 July 2019

'TD Swing case undermines FG compensation reforms' - Maria Bailey case is criticised by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell

FG TD Maria Bailey
FG TD Maria Bailey

Ryan Nugent, Shane Phelan and Cormac McQuinn

THE Government’s efforts to tackle claims culture cannot be taken seriously when a Fine Gael TD is taking a case over falling off a swing, a former Justice Minister warned.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell highlighted the controversy surrounding Maria Bailey’s personal injury action against The Dean Hotel in the Seanad.

Barrister and senator Michael McDowell. Photo: Collins
Barrister and senator Michael McDowell. Photo: Collins

She claims she suffered injuries to her head, back and hip when she fell from a swing inside the premises on Dublin’s Harcourt Street.

The hotel is denying any liability.

It comes at a time when there is sharp political focus on personal injuries payouts in the courts, a matter that barrister Mr McDowell chose to highlight last night.

He questioned the proposition that “there should be supervisors for swings when adults are using them and that it’s a matter of civil liability if there isn’t”.

Mr McDowell added: “We live in a strange world where civil liability can exist in such circumstances.

“But who knows, maybe we’re only hearing a portion of the evidence.

“If the Government is serious about driving down the claims culture we cannot stand idly by when adults lose their seat with two objects one in each hand and fall off a swing and then claim that there should have been a supervisor looking after them.”

He added: “Especially when it comes from somebody who has so much public influence and clearly influence over government policy in these matters.”

The Government is aiming to fast-track changes to the law to allow for the establishment of a committee of judges to set guidelines for personal injury pay-outs.

In her case against the Dean Hotel, lawyers for Ms Bailey list 18 particulars of alleged negligence or breach of duty including a failure to have signs or supervisors.

Neither Ms Bailey nor Fine Gael have yet commented on the case.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan’s family's law firm is taking the case, although she no longer works there.

Ms Bailey’s case against The Dean Hotel was mentioned on Monday in  Dublin Circuit Civil Court.

It is understood the swings in question are located indoors, on the top floor of the hotel, near a bar and restaurant area.

Her lawyers claim there should have been signs or a member of staff to instruct how to use the swing safely.

They claim that patrons at the hotel are encouraged to use the swing unsupervised.

They also state there was nobody to supervise and intevene if a patron was at risk of a fall, and there was no cushioning of the area surrounding the swing.

Her lawyers say after the fall, Ms Ms Bailey woke up with a severe pain the next morning and after attending A&E was diagnosed with soft tissue damage and contusions as well as a concusion.

Defence papers claim Ms Bailey failed to use the swing in a proper manner and held items in both hands, restricting her ability to balance and preventing her from holding the rope grips properly.

The hotel claims that if any injury was suffered, this was due to Ms Bailey’s own negligence.

Speaking in the Seanad Mr McDowell said: “As somebody who was careless enough to lose my seat on three occasions in the other house, I was struck by reading in today’s Irish Independent about a member of that house who lost her seat while on a swing in a hotel in Harcourt St recently,” Mr McDowell said.

“I just want to say two things without commenting on the merits of the case, that it would appear that 55 years after Belfast City Council unlocked the swings on Sunday, the proposition has been put in court that there should be supervisors for swings when adults are using them and that it’s a matter of civil liability if there isn’t.”

He was warned to “tread carefully” by the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Denis O’Donovan - and Mr McDowell replied that he would not comment on the merits of the case.

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