UCC forces ESB to give up flood documents

The university suing the ESB for €18m in damages following the devastating floods of 2009 has won a key legal argument securing access to crucial documents which the power company had refused to disclose.

Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan has granted an order for inspection which will give University College Cork’s legal team access to the documents as it pursues its case for damages against the ESB.

UCC declined to comment last night.

Joe Noonan, a solicitor who is representing several householders and business owners affected by the 2009 flood, described the ruling as “important and helpful”.

“We act for several affected residents and business owners who are watching this case with interest,” he said. “We are maintaining a watch and are awaiting the outcome of this case.”

Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan’s ruling relates to two categories of documents: Internal ESB emails which were prepared in the immediate aftermath of the November 2009 flood and three detailed reports prepared by the ESB into flood events on the River Lee in 1990, 1997, and 2000.

The ESB claimed litigation privilege over the material, arguing that it was all prepared with the “dominant intention” of preparing for litigation.

Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan said that, based on the evidence before her, the documents were prepared for a number of purposes.

She also referred to the presentation of material in some of the documents to the Joint Oireachtas Environment Committee on February 23, 2010, which heard evidence in relation to the 2009 flood.

The judge said this led her to conclude that the ESB had not established that the documents were prepared for the “dominant” purpose for use in apprehended or threatened litigation and that, therefore, UCC is entitled to the order for inspection.

The massive damages case is the first significant legal action following the flood which swamped Cork City on November 19, 2009.

UCC claims it sustained substantial damage to its property following a period of prolonged rainfall, when the ESB released millions of litres of water from Inniscarra Dam on the River Lee.

The college claims ESB was negligent and caused severe flooding by releasing unprecedented volumes of water in too short a time from the dams. As a result, UCC claims, 30 acres of its 80-acre campus were submerged, causing extensive damage to 29 of its buildings.

UCC brought its action by way of a subrogated claim on behalf of its insurer, Aviva. ESB denies all the claims.

The case is due to be heard in the High Court in June.


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