Legal argument will apply mainly to Section 4 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1995 and in particular whether, under the section, there was a failure on the part of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to take reasonable care to maintain a boardwalk in a safe condition.
Ms Wall, a 59-year-old from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin, injured her knee when she fell on a boardwalk of partially rotten railway sleepers on August 6, 2013. She claimed she had been directed by signs to walk on the sleepers.
Her barrister, David McParland, argued that the boardwalk constituted a structure under the act, which imposed a far higher duty of care in the maintenance and management of it. The act provided that, in respect of a danger existing on a premises, the occupier owed a recreational user or trespasser a duty not to intentionally injure them or damage their property and not act with reckless disregard for the person or their property.
Yesterday, Kerry county councillors and a farmers’ representative body added to criticism of the ruling.
Elected representatives attending yesterday’s meeting of Kerry County Council said the decision would have “disastrous” consequences for Kerry, where tourism accounted for one in five jobs and where hillwalking was a huge activity.
Sleepers currently aid walkers on Torc Mountain near Killarney, which is under the remit of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Work is also under way on providing stone paths on Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, which is privately owned.
“This ruling, if allowed stand, will affect Kerry more than any other county because of its built structures like the sleepers on Torc. You can’t describe the result of what effect it would have,” said Fianna Fáil councillor John Joe Culloty, himself a keen hillwalker.
Killarney-based councillor Michael Gleeson said he had deep concerns about the ruling. “If we are going to go down that track, it would be a disaster,” he said.
Meanwhile, Seamus Sherlock, rural development chairman with the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association, said: “This sends out a clear message to farmers and landowners that hill walkers can claim successfully for injuries sustained when walking. While the claim related to a structure put in place by the NPWS, there will now be a growing fear that this will embolden others to try their luck in the courts.
“Hill walking, by its nature, involves a small degree of risk and those who participate in this activity should be prepared to accept that risk themselves. It is totally unacceptable that a farmer or landowner would be at risk of finding themselves facing a lawsuit through no fault of their own.”