Connaughton v Minister for Justice and Anor

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMs. Justice Irvine
Judgment Date30 March 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] IEHC 203
Date30 March 2012

[2012] IEHC 203

THE HIGH COURT

[No. 1308 P./1999]
Connaughton v Min for Justice & AG

BETWEEN

NEIL MARTIN CONNAUGHTON
PLAINTIFF

AND

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND LAW REFORM AND ATTORNEY GENERAL
DEFENDANTS

COSGROVE v RYAN & ELECTRICITY SUPPLY BOARD 2008 4 IR 537

MAHON v DUBLIN & LUCAN ELECTRIC RAILWAY CO 1905 39 ILTR 126

O'ROURKE v MCGUINNESS 1942 IR 554

JONES v GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY CO 1930 47 TLR 39

ROTHWELL v MOTOR INSURERS BUREAU OF IRELAND 2003 1 IR 268 2003 1 ILRM 521 2003/46/11196

HANRAHAN v MERCK SHARPE & DOHME (IRL) LTD 1988 ILRM 629 1988/5/1234

ROGERS v MOTOR INSURERS BUREAU OF IRELAND UNREP SUPREME 31.3.2009 2009/49/12342 2009 IESC 30

HEUSTON & BUCKLEY SALMOND & HEUSTON ON THE LAW OF TORTS 21ED 1996 244

MCMAHON & BINCHY IRISH LAW OF TORTS 3ED 2000 PARA 9.01

MCMAHON & BINCHY IRISH LAW OF TORTS 3ED 2000 PARAS 9.05-9.06

BRADLEY v CORAS IOMPAIR EIREANN 1976 IR 217

TORT LAW

Personal injuries

Negligence - Liability - Onus of proof - Causation - Accident at work - Prison - System whereby prisoners permitted to carry beverages - Whether plaintiff required to eliminate every possibility by which accident may have been caused without negligence - Whether plaintiff adduced evidence that gave rise to inference of negligence - Res ipsa loquitur - Whether onus of proof shifted to defendant - Whether act or default particularly within knowledge of defendant - Whether any significant history of difficulty feeding prisoners - Whether evidence of previous similar incidents - Whether system well policed and orderly - Whether other plausible explanations for accident which did not involve negligence of defendant - Whether burden of proof of legal or factual causation discharged - Cosgrove v Ryan [2008] IESC 2, [2008] 4 IR 537; Rothwell v Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland [2003] 1 IR 268; Hanrahan v Merck Sharpe & Dohme [1988] ILRM 629; Rogers v Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland [2009] IESC 30, (Unrep, SC, 31/3/2009) and Bradley v Córas Iompair Éireann [1976] 1 IR 217 applied - Mahon v Dublin & Lucan Electric Railway Company (1905) 39 ILTR 126, Jones v Great Western Railway Co [1930] 47 TLR 39; Wakelin v London and South Western Railway Co (1886) 12 App Cas 41 and Gahan v Engineering Products Ltd [1971] IR 30 considered - Proceedings dismissed (1999/1308P - Irvine J - 30/3/2012) [2012] IEHC 203

Connaughton v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Facts The plaintiff was a prison officer who had slipped and fallen whilst on duty. The accident had occurred during teatime when the prisoners were collecting their tea. It appeared that liquid had fallen from an upper level, resulting in a slippery floor which the plaintiff fell on. It was the plaintiff's case that the injuries he sustained were caused by the negligence and breach of contract on the part of his employer. It was contended that the system whereby prisoners were permitted to carry food and beverages back to their cells was unsafe having regard to the physical features of the building. It was also contended there should have been a one-way system in operation which would have eliminated the risk of any spillage being caused by prisoners passing each other. On behalf of the defendant it was submitted that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply as the circumstances surrounding the spillage could have occurred without negligence on the part of the defendants

Held by Irvine J in rejecting the plaintiff's claim: There was no evidence to suggest that there was any significant history of difficulties with the system of feeding prisoners which included prisoners carrying trays of food including tea back to their cells on a daily basis. The system was a well policed and orderly one. Every day of the week in cafeterias, patrons faced much the same risk as that experienced by the plaintiff. Taking the plaintiff's case at its highest, the plaintiff had not pointed to any objective facts from which it could be inferred that the negligence of the defendants was to blame for the spillage. The plaintiff had failed to discharge the burden of proof in respect of factual or legal causation and the plaintiff's injuries, although clearly regrettable were the result of an accidental injury for which his employer was not responsible.

1

1. The plaintiff, at the time material to these proceedings, was a prison officer at Mountjoy Women's Prison in Dublin. He was born in 1972, is married and resides at Lucan, Co. Dublin.

2

2. The plaintiff's claim arises from a slip and fall which he had on the floor of the prison premises on 15 th October, 1996. He maintains that the injuries he sustained on that date were occasioned to him as a result of the negligence and breach of contract on the part of his employer, the first named defendant. In particular, he asserts that the system whereby prisoners were permitted to carry food and accompanying beverage, in this case a pot of tea, back to their cells was unsafe having regard to the physical features of the building.

The Relevant Physical Features of the Locus in Quo
3

3. Mr. Tennyson, Consulting Engineer, who gave evidence on behalf of the plaintiff, produced a number of photographs which show the relevant features of the prison. The prison has two floors. The ground floor is a rectangular area and is covered with a surface of a thermoplastic nature which provides satisfactory slip resistance when dry but is dangerous when wet. The ground floor area is called "D1". Looking at the first of Mr. Tennyson's photographs, seven cells can be seen on the right hand side of the Dl area. To the left hand side are a number of other rooms, one of which is a recreation room which is used if the prison is overcrowded but is otherwise locked at meal times. Furthest away from the camera is the main entrance in front of which there is a staircase to the upper level. There is a hatch in the wall on the right hand side at the far end of D1 near the metal staircase. It is from this hatch that meals on trays are handed to prisoners who then take them back to their cells to be consumed.

4

4. The upper level is known as D2 and this houses some 35 cells. There are eighteen cells on one side and seventeen on the other. Access to these is by a walkway or balcony which goes around the internal perimeter. This is 2ft 8 inches wide and has a metal railing at three different levels. The central upper floor area is a metal mesh like grill. This is a protective measure to prevent inmates throwing objects onto the floor below. This metal grill facilitates prison staff observing and hearing activities carried on at both levels of this unit at any one time and is an essential security feature which also provides a significant degree of protection to those walking below it.

The Facts
5

5. The plaintiff was on duty on the floor of DI at teatime on 15 th October, 1996. Teatime starts about 4.15pm. Prisoners had come from various parts of the prison to queue up for their tea. The plaintiff states that prisoners normally form a line to the right hand side of photograph No. 1. They are served from a hatch which is to the right of the stairway down near the entrance. The plaintiff said this was a busy time with prisoners moving around on D1 which was quite a hub of activity at that time of day. There was a laundry, post and medical facility at the end of D1 which is opposite the staircase and main door. Prisoners regularly gathered at that end of D1 to avail of those facilities prior to queuing for their tea. Prisoners collect their food on what is a fairly standard type of canteen tray of the type shown in photograph No. 5. Their meal may include a pot of tea which is dispensed in a standard small stainless steel teapot with a flip top lid as is shown in the same photograph. This is an exercise that is repeated for 35 - 40 prisoners in this unit three times a day.

The Plaintiff's Evidence
6

6. The plaintiff states that he was walking across the floor of DI towards where the cameraman taking photograph No. 1 would have been placed. He was not walking close to the wall where he would have been below the walkway of the upper level. He was walking under the area protected from above by the metal mesh. He heard a bang and a smash and hot liquid fell down from above. Simultaneously, liquid which he now knows to have been tea fell on him from above. He instantaneously moved to avoid further liquid spilling on him and as he did so, he slipped on some of the tea which had already made its way onto the floor surface.

7

7. The plaintiff was not in a position to give any other evidence regarding the event save to say that he knows that it was tea that he slipped on and that this had come from above him, presumably spilt by a prisoner on their way back to their cell.

8

8. Under cross examination, the plaintiff accepted that he could do no more than theorise as to what had caused the spillage. He could not say whether two prisoners were passing each other by at the time of the incident. Neither could he say if the prisoner who spilt the tea was engaged with or distracted by another prisoner at the relevant time. Further, he did not know whether the prisoner who spilt the tea had themselves slipped or tripped on something that may have been dropped by another prisoner on the upper walkway. He did not any call to give direct evidence as to the circumstances which had led to the spillage of the tea and he accepted that the potential causes for the spillage were manifold.

9

9. In relation to the system in operation for feeding prisoners in the Mountjoy Women's Prison in 1996, the plaintiff told the court that he believed small kettles should have been available to prisoners in their cells as was the case in Castleree Prison. He also stated that it was his view that there should have been...

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1 cases
  • Moorehouse v Governor of Wheatfield Prison
    • Ireland
    • Court of Appeal (Ireland)
    • 31 July 2020
    ...Professional, 2013), in a passage approved of by Irvine J. in Connaughton v. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [2012] IEHC 203, states at para. 9.01:- “As a general rule, a plaintiff in an action for negligence must plead and prove negligence on the part of the defendant in ......
1 firm's commentaries
  • Connaughton v Minister For Justice
    • Ireland
    • Mondaq Ireland
    • 18 July 2012
    ...[2012] IEHC 203 - Irvine Prison officer's claim for damages arising out of a slip and fall accident in Mountyjoy Prison dismissed. Facts The Plaintiff was working as a prison guard in Mountjoy prison when his accident occurred. The Plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries when he slippe......

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