A Cork racehorse trainer has been ordered to pay over €77,000 in damages to an employee as a result of serious injuries sustained in fall from a horse at his stables.
The High Court ruled that Terence O’Brien, a racehorse trainer based at Woodstock, Carrigtwohill, was liable for the accident which resulted in his head lad, Niall Healy, being thrown from a national hunt racehorse he was exercising.
It awarded Mr Healy, a 46-year-old married father of three from Ban na Gréine, Carrigtwohill, €100,000 in general damages and €16,017 in special damages.
However, Mr Justice Bernard Barton ruled that Mr Healy was one third at fault for the accident as a result of his actions and therefore the racehorse trainer should only pay two-thirds of the award — a sum of €77,345.
The accident occurred on October 22, 2015, when Mr Healy was riding a filly with a known nervous temperament which became spooked when approaching a tractor which Mr O’Brien had parked close to a gallops.
The horse came into contact with a live electrified fence and, as a result of the shock, attempted to throw her jockey.
Mr Healy was thrown over a fence and landed heavily on his head, sustaining serious injuries including two fractured vertebrae.
Mr Justice Barton said he accepted the evidence of an expert witness that the location of the parked tractor close to the gallops created a risk of spooking a horse.
The judge said that it created a “reasonably foreseeable danger and the likelihood of an accident occurring”. Mr Justice Barton said if the tractor had been parked in its usual position approximately 5m away from the gallops there would have been sufficient distance to allow horses to pass without any reasonably foreseeable risk of a mishap.
The judge said he found Mr O’Brien was in breach of his duty of care to the plaintiff. However, he also ruled that Mr Healy was guilty of contributory negligence.
Mr Justice Barton said he found Mr Healy’s evidence that he didn’t anticipate the positioning of the tractor posed any risk that might cause his mount to shy away or take flight as “unconvincing”. The judge said it seemed that given his vast experience and his position of responsibility as head lad that he certainly ought to have been thinking about the risk posed by the tractor.
He said he believed the plaintiff took a conscious decision to pass the tractor in the belief of his ability to control the horse, which the judge said was “a serious misjudgement”.
“The failure to properly assess what to a man of his experience and responsibility was such an obvious risk constitutes a failure to take reasonable care for his own safety,” said the judge.
In assessing the apportionment of fault, Mr Justice Barton said the greater degree of fault rested with Mr O’Brien as the “author of the danger which resulted in the accident”. The court heard the plaintiff was left with pain in his neck, right shoulder, right arm, upper chest, and back as well as developing a disturbed sleeping pattern.
Mr Healty also underwent two operations on his arm.
Although the surgery was successful, Mr Justice Barton said he accepted Mr Healy still suffers intermittent pain and is at a small risk of developing a delayed deterioration in his spine.
The court heard that the plaintiff found it hard but accepted advice that he should not return to his previous occupation and had found alternative work in 2017.