Cork City and County councils have paid out €15m in compensation for slips, trips, and falls since 2016. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also show that hundreds of cases are yet to be settled.
In the year to March 31, 2019, Cork City Council had paid out €1,144,594 for personal injury claims.
These relate to slips, trips, and falls in the public realm, including parks and common areas in council-owned housing estates. The amount paid out in 2018 was €4,350,550, a rise from €4,254,068 in 2017 and €3,999,606 in 2016.
In comparison, Cork County Council paid €129,626 in 2018, €667,754 in 2017, and €782,035 in 2016, and has paid out nothing so far in 2019. In total, €1,579,415 was paid out in county areas from 2016 to 2019, in comparison to €13.5m paid by Cork City Council.
Both local authorities confirmed that a significant number of claims have yet to be settled. For Cork City Council, there were 455 personal injury claims open as of March 31, 2019, while Cork County Council said the figure was 230 as of the same date.
The true cost to local authorities is significantly higher, as the money paid out does not include legal fees and the labour costs associated with council staff responding to claims. Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon, a former lord mayor of Cork, said the issue in the city is the result of years of poor investment in the public realm.
He said he does not doubt the sincerity of the vast majority of the claims, adding that footpaths and roads have been “left to crumble” due to poor investment from national government.
“It is a direct result of the decline of the condition of the public realm: potholes, cracked footpaths, and so on,” said Mr Shannon.
Mr Shannon said Cork City Council has allocated €5m this year for potential payouts. In comparison, in its 2019 budget, Cork City Council allocated €2.6m for the upkeep of national roads and just €953,200 for the upkeep of regional roads.
The budget document itself acknowledges that improvement works have been “limited over the last number of years”, but that this is “beginning to change slowly”.
Approximately €200,000 is due to the council this year, in a refund from IPB Insurance. This money will be used to “upgrade and repair footpaths that have fallen into bad condition and have been the subject of a number of liability claims”.
This allocation has been described as a drop in the ocean by Mr Shannon.
“The IPB funds will be used to patch up areas that have been the result of multiple claims,” said Mr Shannon. “But, ultimately, it won’t go far enough to make a real difference.”
He said that public liability costs are just the tip of the iceberg, too, with the poor condition of the public realm also contributing to escalating compensation claims from motorists and the owners of other damaged private property. Mr Shannon said that years of cuts to local authority grants have left councils all over the country in the same situation.