Purtill v Athlone Urban District Council

Judgment Date19 July 1968
Date19 July 1968
Docket Number[1965. No. 1680 P.]
CourtSupreme Court

Supreme Court.

[1965. No. 1680 P.]
Purtill v. Athlone U.D.C.
JAMES PURTILL, an Infant, suing by his father and next friend, James Purtill

Negligence - Infant - Allurement - Detonators - Loss of eye - Liability of tortfeasor arising from proximity of parties - Foreseeability - Trespasser - Apportionment of fault - Damages.

Appeal from the High Court.

The plaintiff's action was tried in the High Court before Henchy J. and a jury on the 19th and 20th May, 1966. The jury apportioned 85% of the fault to the defendants and 15%

thereof to the plaintiff, and they assessed damages at £4,242. Judgment for £3,605 14s. 0d. was entered for the plaintiff. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court.

The plaintiff, a boy aged 14 years, lost his right eye as a result of the explosion of a detonator with which he way playing in the garden of his home. He had been in the habit of visiting the defendants' abattoir, without objection by the defendants, in order to watch the defendants' employees working and during those visits he became aware that the defendants kept detonators, for use in a humane killer, readily available either on a stool or on a shelf in the abattoir. On the day before the accident, the plaintiff took 12 detonators from the stool in the course of two visits to the abattoir and he made them explode by wrapping each one in a piece of paper, setting fire to the paper, and throwing the paper and detonator on the ground in the garden of his own home or in a friend's garden. On the day of the accident the plaintiff visited the abattoir three times with the deliberate intention of stealing more detonators; he took 12 detonators on the first visit, 16 on the second visit and 9 on the third visit. The defendants had no knowledge of, and did not consent to, the taking of any detonator by the plaintiff; but the defendants were aware of most of the plaintiff's visits to the abattoir. The detonator which caused the plaintiff's injury had not exploded when thrown on the ground by the plaintiff, but it did explode when he picked it up.

In an action in the High Court in which the plaintiff claimed damages for the negligence of the defendants, the jury found that the plaintiff and the defendants had been negligent and apportioned 85% of the fault on the defendants and the jury assessed damages at £4,242, of which £3,000 was attributable to general damages for the loss of the plaintiff's eye. The defendants appealed on the ground that, as occupiers of the abattoir, their only duty to the plaintiff, a trespasser, had been to refrain from setting a trap for him and that they were not in breach of that duty; and on the grounds that the jury's apportionment of fault was not justified and that the amount of damages was excessive. At the hearing of the appeal it was

Held by the Supreme Court ( Ó Dálaigh ó dálaigh C.J., Walsh and Budd JJ.), in disallowing the appeal, 1, that the determination of the issue of the defendants' liability to compensate the plaintiff did not depend upon an application to the facts of the case of the standards of duty owed by an occupier to a person who came to the occupier's premises; but that such issue should be determined by deciding whether or not the parties at the relevant time were sufficiently proximate to each other so as to impose on the defendants, in regard to the plaintiff, the ordinary duty to take reasonable care for his safety, and that the fact that the plaintiff had been a trespasser was not a relevant factor in making that decision.

2. That the parties had been sufficiently proximate to impose such duty on the defendants and that the jury's finding that the defendants had been negligent was supported by the evidence.

3. That the jury's apportionment of fault was acceptable and that the damages were not excessive.

Cur. adv. vult.

Ó Dálaigh C.J. ó dálaigh :—

I have read the judgment that Mr. Justice Walsh will deliver and I agree with it.

Walsh J. :—

On the relevant dates the defendants owned and operated an abattoir in the town of Athlone. The method of slaughter of the animals, carried out by the defendants' employees, was by the use of a humane killer which is a pistol-like instrument in which the power is supplied by the explosion of a detonator. A separate detonator is employed for each

use of the instrument and the defendants kept a stock of these detonators on the premises for the purpose of carrying on the work of the abattoir. The premises were situated about a half a mile from the residence of the plaintiff and he passed the abattoir every day going to, and coming from, school. The doors of the abattoir were open from 9 a.m. until about 6 p.m. and apparently it was customary for boys to go into the premises without objection from the caretaker of the premises or the employees working at the slaughter of the animals. At the time of the accident in respect of which he has sued, the plaintiff was fourteen years old and he had visited the abattoir premises on about ten occasions in the previous five years, always with other boys. The visits were during the periods when the doors were open and apparently the gate leading into the premises was never shut during those hours. In the course of his visits he had seen the method used for killing the animals and had observed that the detonators were kept on a shelf in the office and also in the actual place of killing, where they were left on a stool.

On Thursday, the 14th November, 1963, he went to the premises with another boy, named John O'Brien, at about 3 or 4 p.m. when they saw some men killing sheep. The boys spent about half an hour there and afterwards lent a hand in cleaning up the...

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27 cases
  • McNamara v Electricity Supply Board
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 1 January 1975
    ...had failed to take reasonable steps to avert such injury. Donoghue v. StevensonELR [1932] A.C. 562 and Purtill v. Athlone U.D.C.IR [1968] I.R. 205 applied. Robert Addie & Sons (Collieries) Ltd. v. DumbreckELR [1929] A.C. 358; Donovan v. Landy's Ltd.IR [1963] I.R. 441 and O'Leary v. Wood Ltd......
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    ... ... expressed by the Supreme Court in the case of Purtill v. Athlone UDC ( 1968 I.R.at p 205 ) and the case of ... John Mullin, the defendant's district manager at the material time, Mr. Mullin produced ... ...
  • Siney v Corporation of Dublin
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    • Supreme Court
    • 1 January 1980
    ...defects or dangers on their land. Such a view of the law is not consistent with the decisions of this Court in Purtill v. Athlone U.D.C. 1968 I.R.205, and McNamara v. E. S. B. 1975 I.R. 25. These cases in relation to their particular facts regarded the liability of the occupier of land, wh......
  • Ward v McMaster and Others
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1 books & journal articles
  • Some Comments about 'Caution': Emerging Trends in Irish Negligence Law
    • Ireland
    • Trinity College Law Review No. VII-2004, January 2004
    • 1 January 2004
    ...508, O'Flaherty J. commented, at 525, that: [T]he scope of many decisions of this Court: I instance Purtill v. Athlone District Council [1968] IR 205; Moynihan v. Moynihan [1975] IR 192; Ward v. McMaster [1988] IR 337 and Sunderland v. Louth County Council [1990] ILRM 658, establishes that ......

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