There was no issue about the fact that Penny Stewart was seriously injured when struck by a falling electricity wire more than 12 years ago on November 5, 2005 in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry.
The issue was whether, as contended in the plaintiff’s case, the cable snapped coincidentally at the time, or as the ESB claimed, as a direct result of the tree-felling.
Mr Justice Michael Twomey said: “This particular case turns on causation, namely whether the electrocution was caused by the ESB.
“Although Ms Stewart was a very convincing witness, her testimony regarding the causation issue is of limited assistance. This is because she had very little recall of the events of the day of the accident. This is understandable since she is suffering from serious memory loss which she attributes to the electrocution.
“In essence, she testified that she was on the laneway close to her house with Mr Karyl Houston, who along with Mr Batt O’Shea was felling trees on the lane. The next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital after being electrocuted.”
Mr Houston testified that he cut two trees and was felling the third, measuring six metres, and the electrical wires were 8.8 metres high. He also said the trees were being cut down parallel to the line of the wires and not perpendicularly in the direction of the overhead lines.
The ESB said the third tree was 11 metres high and fell towards the wires on the day.
Mr Justice Twomey quoted from ESB engineer, Brian Tapely’s site meeting with Mr Houston two days after the accident, where he alleged that Mr Houston told him he was cutting the tree while Ms Stewart and Mr O’Shea were pulling a rope to direct the fall of the tree.
Mr Tapely testified that, “he (Mr Houston) told me the tree fell into the power line. He told me there was a blue flash up on the power line”.
The judge said: “For this reason and based on the convincing nature of the evidence provided by the employees of the ESB… the expert evidence provided on behalf of the ESB and the inconsistencies in Mr Houston’s evidence, this court concludes that on the balance of probabilities the electrocution was caused by the felled tree striking the wires.”