€75,000 fingertip award overturned

A Cork pub has won its appeal over an award of €75,000 to a woman who had a fingertip severed when it got caught in an automatic door in the bar.

From infancy, we are warned of the risk of injury from closing doors and Saundra O’Flynn was the “author of her own misfortune”, said Ms Justice Mary Irvine.

There was no basis for the High Court finding the Oliver Plunkett pub in Cork was negligent because the automatic door was not set at the slowest speed possible, she said.

“Adult members of society are obliged to take care for their own safety,” said the judge. “We are all guilty form time to time of doing things without paying sufficient attention to the consequences of those actions in terms of potential risk. When we do so, and sustain injury, we are to blame and must absorb the consequences of our conduct unless we can demonstrate that some other party was in some respect culpable.”

It was “regrettable” that Ms O’Flynn suffered a significant, disfiguring finger injury but judges must be careful not to allow the significance of an injury influence their judgment when deciding, as a matter of law, who is responsible for that, said the judge. In this case, the pub was not responsible.

She was giving the three-judge Court of Appeal’s decision overturning the award to Ms O’Flynn.

Aged in her 60s, of Ballinsheen Court, Blackrock, Co Cork, Ms O’Flynn sued Cherry Hills Inns Ltd, trading as the Oliver Plunkett bar, over the injuries on February 17, 2012.

Ms O’Flynn was in the bar with friends and, after about three glasses of wine, went through an automatic door into a smoking area.

She said she pulled the door towards her to go through and, having done so, put her left hand behind her in a type of impulse reaction to restrain the door she felt would be closing behind her. The tip of the ring finger of her left hand got trapped in the hinged recess and was severed by the closing door.

The High Court awarded €75,000, having concluded the pub failed in its duty to protect customers like her from foreseeable injury.

Allowing the pub’s appeal, Ms Justice Irvine said there was no evidential basis for the trial judge’s finding the pub failed to use reasonable care because the calibration of the door, having regard to its location between the pub and a smoking area, proved insufficient to protect Ms O’Flynn.

The evidence was a door closure time of three to seven seconds was within the acceptable range; the timing mechanism of this door was set to 5.5 seconds. There was no evidence of an obligation to set the door timer to the maximum seven seconds.

There was “simply no evidence” to suggest that, at seven seconds, Ms O’Flynn would have avoided injury and been able to extract her fingers. There was also no claim or evidence her injury occurred due to insufficient time to get beyond the door.

The judge said she “could not disagree more” with the finding Ms O’Flynn was not to be faulted in any way for her injury. It was “untenable” to propose an adult should be considered blameless, in the legal sense, for an injury suffered when they blindly placed their hand behind them such that their fingers were placed in the hinged recess of a door.


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