Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Skipper's £55k bill after passenger hurt in stunt

A boat skipper must pay £55,000 in damages to a hairdresser whose face was left scarred after the vessel smashed against a pole during a trip on the River Bann, a High Court judge has ruled.

The court heard that Lee Mc Caughan span his "sleek and sporty" boat in circles as he took five girls to a barbecue.

Mr Justice Maguire said he found it easy to believe that McCaughan had been showing off.

But his behaviour resulted in Sinead McGlinchey (23) being flung from her seat, and her head hit part of the boat.

Ms McGlinchey sued over the accident, which occurred in April 2008. She had gone to Newferry on the River Bann for a surprise barbecue party.

During the evening she boarded Mr McCaughan's Tige R22 along with four other girls for a river trip towards Portglenone.

On the return journey she claimed the driver started "doing circles" in the water, creating waves and crossing its own wake.

It was alleged in court that at one stage Mr McCaughan laughed and said to her: "Hold on."

According to her evidence, the boat appeared to hit something, causing her to be flung across the vessel. She hit a pole or part of the structure of the boat, receiving facial injuries in the process.

She suffered scarring to her forehead and the bridge of her nose, as well as injuries to her neck and the septum of her nose.

The defendant alleged that he had steered the boat slowly around in a circle just before the accident and that the girls were "carrying on" and swapping seats despite his repeated warnings to them to stay seated.

But Mr Justice Maguire said his evidence was unconvincing.

"His account that he never would have done spins or sharp turns in his boat at any time on the river seems to the court to be hard to believe," the judge said.

He said that the boat was "sleek and sporty" and "the sort of boat which one might expect a boat owner (at least sometimes) to drive fast and to experiment with".

"It is also the sort of boat an owner might drive in a manner which would impress passengers whom he was taking on a trip."

In a ruling delivered last October, but only published now, the judge found for Ms McGlinchey on the balance of probabilities.

He declared that she had established liability against the defendant, who had a duty of care to his passengers.

"On the facts I find this duty to have been breached by the defendant in the manner in which the boat was driven on this occasion," he said.

Awarding £40,000 damages for the scarring, Mr Justice Maguire explained: "The court has taken into account the plaintiff's evidence as to how it embarrasses her and how she keeps seeing it in the mirrors which confront her during her job as a hairdresser."

A further £15,000 was awarded for the neck injury and nasal fracture caused by the incident.

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