It would have been better if the barcode on the tin of Ronseal had not been on the lid which meant Wendy Delaney, aged 68, had to turn it upside down to scan it, Mr Justice Michael Hanna remarked in the High Court.
Ms Delaney, a community worker from Newlands Rd, Clondalkin, Dublin, sued B&Q Ireland in the High Court over the accident in its Tallaght store on May 30, 2009.
She said she was covered from “head to toe” by varnish which she cleaned off afterwards in the store’s staff bathroom.
She later had to be treated for injuries to both eyes but also suffered a depressive reaction, the court heard.
Mr Justice Hanna said Ms Delaney was a qualified nurse who left nursing to work in full-time community care in the area of women’s rights and education.
She and her daughter went to the B&Q Belgard Rd store to buy some varnish and chose a 2.5-litre tin of Ronseal.
She decided to use the self-service checkout and had to invert the tin when the lid fell off and she dropped it causing significant personal injuries, the judge said.
Ms Delaney and her daughter, as well as a manager from B&Q, gave their evidence impeccably and fairly and it was a pleasure to listen to them, the judge said.
While there was no CCTV evidence, through no fault of B&Q, and no other witnesses, there was evidence from engineers on both sides as to what may happen if a tin of varnish slipped in this way.
What was known about what happened and “as one who does not frequent the darkest corners of DIY stores”, the judge said it was clear varnish is less viscous than paint and if it was going to fall out, it was going to splash like a liquid and spill in every direction. The barcode was on the lid and it seemed to the judge the “safe place” to have it would be on the base or on the side “but life does not work like that”.
He found there was no issue of contributory negligence by Ms Delaney.
She received treatment in the eye and ear hospital and after a couple of weeks, she was on the mend although she now needs to lubricate her eyes if she intends to read or look at a screen for a long time, he said.
The more serious aspect of her injuries was that she suffered a depressive reaction and while her doctor said she was pre-disposed to this reaction, the incident had increased the risk, he said.
She had also been unable to complete a Masters degree as a result though she hoped to do so in the future, he said.
In the circumstances, she was entitled to recover “significant though not enormous damages” which he assessed at €85,000, including €20,000 special damages.
He granted a three-week stay to Finbarr Fox, counsel for the defendant, in the event of an appeal.