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Pensioner who injured knee falling in icy conditions outside Armagh church to receive £60k in damages

By Alan Erwin

Published 23/03/2016

A pensioner who injured her knee after slipping and falling in icy conditions outside her church is to receive £60,000 in damages, a High Court judge has ruled.

Angela McCluskey (66) suffered the accident at St Malachy's Chapel in Armagh as she arrived to light a candle to mark the anniversary of her niece's death.

Mrs Justice Keegan held St Patrick's Archdiocesan Trust liable after concluding that freezing conditions at the time meant the risk was foreseeable.

She also determined that warning signs and more gritting around a pedestrian gate at the church on Lower Irish Street could have prevented the incident.

The judge said:  "I do not consider that an organisation such as this needs a sophisticated risk assessment process in place, but it does need to consider how to keep visitors reasonably safe on a basic level."

Mrs McCluskey sued for alleged negligence and breach of statutory duty in supervising and safekeeping the church.

The retired hospital cleaner and school dinner lady told how she slipped on ice and went down after walking through the pedestrian gate back in December 2010.

She described lying on the ground in pain, going in and out of consciousness as she waited for the ambulance.

Following hospital surgery for her injuries, which included a dislocated knee and ligament damage, she spent a period in a wheelchair and now uses a walking stick to aid her mobility.

The court heard how Mrs McCluskey's home was adapted to help with her personal care before she later moved to a bungalow.

A business finance manager whose work for churches in the area included dealing with adverse weather conditions accepted there was no formal system in place at the time of the accident to manage the church grounds. 

She also confirmed there was no rota and no risk assessment, adding that no-one was managing church premises while she was off work at the time due to ill-health.

Lawyers for the defendant argued that it had been doing its best in a period of weather so harsh that Department of Regional Development resources had been stretched across Northern Ireland.

Counsel also contended that St Malachy's was of modest size and could not be expected to operate a sophisticated system of risk assessments.

Staff had been trying to clear snow from the steps, focusing on what was considered the most dangerous area, she added.

However, Mrs Justice Keegan held the defendant liable on the balance of probabilities.

Pointing to the extreme weather at the time, she said: "In my view the risk was clearly foreseeable.

"The defendant knew about the bad weather conditions and in my view had the ability to take precautions to protect visitors to their premises."

Although she accepted salting had taken place the day before, the judge held that the pedestrian entrance should have been checked for a hazards the next morning.

"I consider that this incident was preventable by measures such as warning signs, closing a gate, directing pedestrians to a safe path, creating one dedicated path, salting/gritting the dangerous area. 

"I do not consider this to be an unrealistic standard of care to impose upon the defendant."

Rejecting any suggestion of contributory negligence by Mrs McCluskey, the judge confirmed: "In all of the circumstances I consider that an appropriate figure for the award of general damages is £60,000.

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