The family of the late Michael O’Donovan, aged 44, a father of three from Aghabullogue, Co Cork, and an employee of Cork County Council, brought a case for compensation yesterday arising out of his death while working on a compound off Carr’s Hill, Douglas, in November 2012.
Dr John O’Mahony, senior counsel for the plaintiffs, opened the case before Mr Justice Robert Eagar at the High Court in Cork and criticised the manner in which the local authority was defending the civil action, particularly as it had pleaded guilty in a criminal court to a health-and-safety offence and been fined €48,000.
“To add insult to injury, the county council have pleaded that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence,” he said.
“In the circumstances, I would ask you to find it is appropriate for aggravated and exemplary damages against the council. Not alone is her husband fatally injured, but they have the audacity and arrogance to claim contributory negligence. This is outrageous.
“I can scarcely think of anything worse than insulting the victim’s family in this manner.”
Fergus O’Hagan, SC for the council, said: “The case has been opened in a somewhat defamatory manner.”
He asked for some time to address certain issues before the calling of the first witness.
Mr Justice Eagar said he was open to such an application where it might help to resolve issues. The case continues today.
Dr O’Mahony said a 50ft Scots pine tree was being felled when the fatal accident occurred.
“The felling was careless and reckless. The tree fell in a manner that should have been foreseen. It fell on a cable on a phoneline that caused the pole to crack at two points. The pole struck the late Mr O’Donovan on the head, causing massive injuries,” he said.
“He was, effectively, killed outright at the scene, albeit that resuscitative care was provided at the scene. He was clearly in extremis. It was a hopeless case. The late Mr O’Donovan died that day in hospital.
“The system of work was entirely unsafe. He was within 11ft of the tree, which was felled, a most dangerous hazard. He should have been a minimum of 100ft away.
“There was no risk assessment properly addressing the issues. He had been doing this work for a number of years. The tree was being felled in an incorrect manner.
“It does not stop there in terms of the grief for the family: Cork County Council did not contact the plaintiff. Later, she [Mrs Yvonne O’Donovan] received a phonecall from the nurse advising her of the situation in hospital. Cork County Council, in its wisdom, never took the basic human step of telling the family that he was badly injured or dead.
“The family was deeply offended by this, greatly exacerbating the suffering.”