Egan v Dublin Health Authority & Others

JudgeÓ Dálaigh, C.J.,
Judgment Date30 July 1965
Neutral Citation1930 WJSC-HC 276
Docket Number29/1964
CourtHigh Court
Date30 July 1965
Egan v. Dublin Health Authority & Others

1930 WJSC-HC 276

Ó Dálaigh, C.J.,

In 1956 the Legion of Mary were carrying on hostels for homeless people in the premises of the North Dublin Union. One of these hostels, known as the Morning Star Hostel, was for the accommodation of homeless men.


On Sunday, 25th November, 1956, a religious retreat was to be conducted at the Hostel; and, as a large number of retreatants was expected, the plaintiff, who was then a member of the Legion of Mary, was asked by the president of her particular praesidium to attend at the hostel as extra help would be needed. She arrived in the early afternoon and helped with the washing up and the drying of the dishes. She intended to remain on to help with the tea things; tea was not until 6 o'clock.


In the interval she and other helpers went in the company of legionaries who were attached to the hostel, for a walk, or tour, through the hostel grounds. In the course of this tour the group mounted an outer stone stairway that led to a store-room adjoining one of the dormitories. Suddenly and without warning the staircase broke away from the wall and collapsed, and the plaintiff was thrown to the ground and injured.


The Legion of Mary is an unincorporated association which engages in corporal works of mercy. In 1927 the Legion was permitted by the then Dublin Board of Assistance to establish hostels for homeless persons in the North Dublin Union premises. The arrangement entered into by the Board with the Legion was apparently informal in character. Some light is, however, cast upon on the arrangement by the provision of section 21(2)(c) of the public Assistance Act,1939(No.27/1939, page 985) which is in the following terms:


"Whenever a public assistance authority is satisfied that a society for relieving poor persons affords or proposes to afford relief to poor persons by providing food and lodging for such persons in premises under the control of such society in the functional area of such public assistance authority and that such society by so doing renders or will render useful aid in the administration of public assistance in such functional area, such public assistance authority may, with the consent of the Minister and subject to such limitations and conditions as he shall impose, give assistance to such society in any one or more of the following ways, that is to say:-


(c) by permitting the use by such society, for the purpose of so affording relief to poor persons, of premises in the occupation of such public assistance authority and, where requisite, executing alterations and repairs to and supplying furniture and fittings for such premises in order to make them suitable for use for such purpose,"


This provision was repealed and replaced by the Health Act,1953(No.26/1953): see section 5 and Schedule and section 65(1)(c).


Whether or not the provision of the 1939 Act was drawn to regularise an arrangement which was thought to have been too informal need not now to discussed; it is enough that it is agreed at the bar that the provision is an indication of the nature of the arrangement which existed in 1957 between the Health Authority and the Legion. In any event it is clear that, in simple words, the Legion were permitted to use the Union premises for their purposes. Such small running repairs as arose they themselves attended to. Repairs of a major nature that came to the notice of the Legion were brought by the Legion to the attention of the Board and the Board carried out these. In addition, from time to time the premises were inspected, or looked over, by an official of the Board.


The State (Workhouses) Act,1930(No.9/1930) also has a bearing on the problems of this case. This Act makes it clear that lands which immediately before the 6th day of December, 1921 were vested in the Local Government Board for Ireland under or for the purposes of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Acts are state lands (see section 2). Further, by section 11(1), the duty is imposed on a local authority "to keep and maintain in good tenantable order, repair and condition all land to which the Act applies situate within the functional area of such authority"


The first-named defendant, the Dublin Health Authority, are the successors of the Dublin Board of Assistance who were a local authority under the Act, and the North Dublin Union are lands to which the Act applies within their functional area.


The plaintiff's action is against the local authority, the first-named defendant and against the managers of the hostel, members of the Legion of Mary, the second and third named defendants, for brevity referred to as the "latter defendants".


The plaintiff's action against first-named defendant is laid in tort and in breech of statutory duty (section 11 of the Act of 1930) and against the latter defendants in tort only. The plaintiff alleges she was on the premises at the invitation of the local authority or, alternatively, at the invitation of the latter defendants and with the permission of the local authority.


On the issue of liability the trail judge, Mr. Justice Henchy, left the following questions to the jury for their consideration:-


a "1. (a) Was the staircase in good tenantable order repair and condition?


(b) If not, was it due to want of reason-able care on the part of the first-named Defendants the Dublin Health Authority?


a 2. (a) Was the Plaintiff an invitee of the Legion of Mary at the time of the accident? If so


(b) Was the staircase an unusual danger of which the Legion of Mary knew or ought to have known?"


The jury answered question 1.(a) No end 1.(b) Yes, and gave affirmative answers to both questions in No.2.


In effect, so far as the local authority was concerned the judge left only one cause of action to the jury, breach of statutory duty; his charge makes this clear. It was the judge's view that the local authority were not occupiers of the premises, and on this basis he declined to allow the plaintiff's second cause of action against the local authority to be considered. The local authority, on this appeal, has submitted that he was in error in ruling that the local authority owed the plaintiff any duty by virtue of the statute; if any liability is created it is, they say, placed upon the Minister for Local Government. On this ground they seek to have verdict against them set aside. The plaintiff, on her side, has given notice that she wishes to re-open the second cause of action.


The latter defendants (who, by agreement, represent the Legion of Mary) have appealed on two grounds (i) that the Legion, while the occupiers of the premises, had not control thereof, and (ii), in any event, the plaintiff whether or not an invitee in the kitchen was at most a licencee at the time when and place where she was injured. The latter defendants originally raised the defence, that, if they were occupiers of the premises, it was only as members of and on behalf of the Legion of Mary of which the plaintiff was also a member, and that consequently the plaintiff's action was not maintainable. This defence, however, was withdrawn; and by consent, the plaintiff,vis-a-vis the Legion of Mary, was treated as a stranger...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT