A man who was awarded €105,000 by a High Court judge after he claimed he slipped on tiles on the front porch of his local authority home will have to have his action reheard.
The Court of Appeal today sent Thomas Keegan’s case back for a new hearing on liability after Sligo County Council won an appeal against the decision of the High Court two years ago.
The three-judge appeal court found the High Court judge had discounted alcohol as a factor in Mr Keegan’s fall “purely on the basis of his own opinion and not on the basis of evidence”.
Neither did the trial judge, the Court of Appeal said, consider the question of Mr Keegan’s own knowledge of the porch tiles in a house where he had lived for nine years.
Thomas Keegan, McNeill Drive, Cranmore, Sligo, had sued Sligo County Council after he slipped on the porch which had a mosaic tile floor, fracturing his left ankle. Mr Keegan (49) had told the court he was on his way home from a funeral and had consumed five pints on the day of the accident on November 18, 2013.
Sligo County Council had claimed Mr Keegan had failed to take reasonable care for his own safety when entering the property.
Making the award in 2017, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said Mr Keegan had candidly admitted he had five pints of beer before returning home on the day of the accident.
"Having regard to the fact this is a man who has worked in manual labouring jobs all his life, I decline to make any adverse finding against him having regard to the level of alcohol consumed by him that day," Mr Justice Barr said.
The judge granted a stay on the award in the event of an appeal providing €30,000 was paid out immediately to Mr Keegan.
Handing down the judgement of the Appeal Court, Mr Justice Brian McGovern said there was no serious attempt by the trial judge to analyse “the various and somewhat conflicting accounts” of the accident given by Mr Keegan.
Mr Keegan, the judgement said, had admitted he had consumed four or five pints earlier the day of the accident but the trial judge dismissed that as a factor to be considered either in terms of the issue of negligence or contributory negligence.
The High Court judge’s remarks on alcohol, the appeal court said, was unsupported by any evidence given at the trial and “was no more than an expression of his opinion”.
“Such an opinion should not play a part in the trial judge’s decision to rule out alcohol as relevant,” the appeal court said.
It added: “The issue of alcohol was a relevant matter for the judge to take into account in determining whether there was any contributory negligence on the part of Mr Keegan,” Mr Justice McGovern said.
The Court of Appeal also found the High Court had erred in making a finding that Mr Keegan’s house was not reasonably fit for human habitation where it had not been pleaded. Such a finding, the appeal court said, could have far-reaching consequences for the Council.
The Court of Appeal awarded the costs of the appeal against Mr Keegan but said each side should pay their own costs of the High Court action.
Mr Justice McGovern said it was a matter for the High Court judge at the next hearing of the action as the whether the €30,000 already paid out by Sligo County Council to Mr Keegan should be repaid.