Castle owner settles claim with ESB over manhole fall

The ESB and the woman who owns the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland settled their differences outside the High Court yesterday.

Elaine Rhys-Davies, aged 61, of Ballea Castle in Carrigaline, Co Cork, had claimed that she sustained horrific injuries when she fell into a manhole through a broken manhole cover. The ESB said she stumbled near the hole but never fell into it.

The case went into its third day before the High Court in Cork. However, shortly after noon the plaintiff’s senior counsel, James O’Mahony, told Mr Justice Henry Abbott the case could be struck out with no order.

Mr O’Mahony said: “I am happy to be able to tell the court the parties have resolved their differences.”

No details of the terms of this resolution were given in court.

In the case Michael Gleeson SC, for the ESB, suggested that whatever damage was done to paving in the area was done incrementally over the years and not by the ESB once driving a truck across it and he said that was clear from the fact vegetation was growing out of some cracks.

Ms Rhys-Davies replied: “It was June, the fastest growing month. I don’t accept the vegetation theory.” She said the damage was done by the ESB.

Mr Justice Abbott wondered whether it was the poet Francis Ledwidge or Gerard Manley-Hopkins who wrote about weeds growing quickly in June. Mr Gleeson quipped: “Fortunately, we have engineers rather than poets to help us on how fresh those cracks were.”

Mr Gleeson said to the plaintiff: “You have over-stated the damage the ESB did to your paving?”

The plaintiff replied: “I have overstated nothing, so help me God.”

Ms Rhys-Davies said someone moved a log, 50-litre pot and temporary cover from on top of the broken manhole cover, without her knowing it, during a confused conversation she had with three workers, and she stepped into the broken manhole cover, resulting in her injuries.

Mr Gleeson SC said: “The evidence will be that you did not fall into that hole at all.” Ms Rhys-Davies laughed at this and said: “Oh that will be interesting. So what are we doing here today?”

Mr Gleeson said: “You turned to get a replacement manhole cover, you stumbled, you never fell into the hole.”

The plaintiff replied: “Oh well that is just untrue, they had to lift me out of the hole. It is completely, completely untrue.”

The plaintiff said she suffered injuries on June 1, 2012 when both of her feet went into the broken manhole, cutting her legs and grazing her hands. She said the most serious injuries were to her neck and left shoulder.

“It is very hard to describe the pain, it is horrific the pain I live with,” she said. She also described her pain as agony.

In terms of how it has affected her life, it did so particularly to her two main activities which were gardening the seven acres of formal gardens by the castle and keeping her dogs.

Mr Justice Abbott warned Ms Rhys-Davies during her evidence about the concept of “mental reservation”, something that was highlighted by the commission into the Dublin Archdioceses.

The matter arose out of how she was responding to questions from the ESB’s senior counsel Mr Gleeson.

Because the plaintiff attributed psychological complaints to the disputed accident in 2012, Mr Gleeson wanted to know if there had been a psychological reaction to a car accident she had previously. She said she was never treated for a psychological problem. Mr Gleeson said one of the medical reports referred to a psychological reaction from the car accident.

The plaintiff then went on to qualify that there was a difference between reactive depression and endogenous depression.

Mr Justice Abbott said he had taken it from her initial response that she had no depressive symptoms at all from that car crash. He said that by drawing the distinction now that she was never treated for it the plaintiff was using something akin to “mental reservation”.

The judge said: “I took it you had no depression. If you are asked, be careful how you answer. It does not reflect well on you. I take it that it is akin to mental reservation and the court will have to take a view on it.”

Ms Rhys-Davies said: “I apologise if there was any communication differences.”


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