€810k awarded to Cork family over fatal tree-felling incident

Almost €810,000 was awarded yesterday to the family of a Cork County Council workman who was killed during tree felling in November 2012.

The family of the late Michael O’Donovan, aged 44, from Aghabullogue, Co Cork, and an employee of the council, brought a case for compensation to the High Court in Cork arising out of his death while working on a compound off Carr’s Hill, Douglas.

Mr Justice Robert Eagar said, at the outset of his judgment of the civil case which commenced on Monday, “the court would like to extend its sympathies to Mrs O’Donovan and her three children on the loss of her husband and the children’s father”.

John O’Mahony, counsel for the plaintiffs, criticised the local authority when he opened the case for their claim of contributory negligence against the deceased and for allegedly failing to contact Mrs Yvonne O’Donovan as soon as the catastrophic accident occurred.

However, following legal discussions, the case resumed on the second day with a formal admission of liability by the local authority and the matter went ahead as an assessment of damages.

Furthermore it was pointed out that the council had documentary evidence to show extensive efforts had been made to contact Mrs O’Donovan as soon as the accident happened, albeit unsuccessful.

Mr Justice Eagar referred to evidence of calls to the plaintiff’s home and to her workplace which rang out on the day. “The court is satisfied that effort was made to inform the plaintiff,” the judge said, adding the plaintiff was also correct in saying she did not hear the calls.

Defence barrister James Duggan said to the judge after the judgment: “We are glad you acknowledge that efforts were made to contact the plaintiff, it would have been unthinkable that efforts were not made.”

A 50ft Scots pine tree was being felled by means of being knocked over by a mechanical digger. It fell on cables which knocked a pole down on the worker’s head, fatally injuring him.

Mr O’Mahony said: “The felling was careless and reckless. The tree fell in a manner that should have been foreseen. It fell on a cable on a phone line that caused the poll to crack at two points.

The pole struck the late Mr O’Donovan on the head causing massive injuries. He was effectively killed outright at the scene albeit that resuscitative care was provided at the scene. He was clearly in extremis. It was a hopeless case. The late Mr O’Donovan died that day in hospital.

Arriving at a decision yesterday, Mr Justice Eagar took into consideration actuarial evidence from John Logan, actuary for the plaintiff, and Joseph Byrne, actuary for the defence.

The judge commented that the admission of liability in the civil action was not surprising given that Cork County Council was fined €48,000 for a health and safety offence arising out of the investigation into the case. The fine was imposed in February 2016 after the council pleaded guilty to the health and safety breach at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.


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