Leisure centre cleared of negligence over unisex changing rooms

A JUDGE at the circuit court yesterday in Tralee said he had no doubt a mother of three had suffered psychological upset and trauma after she saw the arms of a man underneath the cubicle of a major leisure centre where she was showering naked.

However, he ruled the Aqua Dome Tralee was not negligent in allowing unisex or communal shower units which had gaps of about five inches underneath the adjoining cubicle walls.

Rosaleen Bowler, aged 33, of Pope’s Cross, Laccamore, Abbeydorney, Co Kerry, told how she had loved swimming. On the evening of February 25, 2009, she had gone for a swim and, afterwards, into a shower cubicle.

She took off her swimsuit and, as she was showering, she looked down and saw someone’s hands.

“A man was lying down, watching me,” she said.

She put a towel around her and alerted management. She also confronted the man.

After her experience, she was prescribed medication for anxiety, had gone for counselling and had also spent about €1,350 on medical and counselling bills.

Engineer Gerard O’Keeffe, for the plaintiff, said the gap between floor and panel was too large and he presented a photograph of lying on the floor with his head partially under the panel. He maintained communal showers were unusual. The panels in the Aqua Dome had been lowered and should be lowered again, he said. There should also be segregated changing and showering areas, he suggested.

The Tralee facility was built in 1994. Communal changing facilities were standard practice at the time and still were, said Aqua Dome chief executive Kieran Ruttledge. He had subsequently been involved in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin and “exactly the same” communal facilities were in use.

Barrister Katie O’Connell, for Ms Bowler, put it to Mr Ruttledge that difficulties should be foreseen “where you have a facility when men and women are naked alongside each other”.

Mr Ruttledge said he could not look up when he tried putting his head underneath the cubicle.

Engineer for the defendants, Tony O’Keefe, said several facilities had communal shower areas and, on the continent, some facilities had no partitions at all. “Unfortunately you can’t design for a pervert,” the engineer said.

Judge Tom O’Donnell said the claim for personal injuries suggested the defendants were negligent in allowing a male to be present in the changing area.

However, he said the evidence established “a different scenario”. Unisex, communal shower areas did exist, the judge said.

Judge O’Donnell said he had “no doubt” the plaintiff had suffered an upsetting incident and he accepted medical evidence on this but could not see how the defendants were negligent.

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