RALEIGH v Iarnród Éireann (IRISH RAIL)

JudgeMr. Justice Diarmuid B. O'Donovan
Judgment Date19 December 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] IEHC 112
Docket NumberNO. 5250P/1996
CourtHigh Court
Date19 December 2003

[2003] IEHC 112


NO. 5250P/1996





Negligence - Personal injuries Liability - Foreseeability - Whether defendant should have foreseen that youths likely to congregate on railway line - Whether defendant negligent in failing to take sufficient steps to prevent youths congregating on railway line - Apportionment of liability - Plaintiff heavily intoxicated at time of accident - Appropriate level of apportionment of liability.

Facts: The plaintiff was 20 years old when he had trespassed on the defendant’s property and was struck by a train as a result of which his right leg was amputated. The area in question had been known by the defendant as one which local youths frequented. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had been heavily intoxicated with alcohol, had dozed off on the railway line and did not wake quickly enough to react to the oncoming train. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had been negligent in failing to halt the train in time and in failing to take appropriate steps to prevent youths congregating on the railway line.

Held by O’Donovan J in awarding the plaintiff Eur111,081 in damages that the plaintiff, whilst a trespasser on the defendant’s railway line, passed the test of proximity and foreseeability and accordingly the defendant had to bear some responsibility for what occurred to the plaintiff for failing to take appropriate steps to prevent trespass on the railway line which they must have known was occurring when they should have foreseen the likelihood that such trespassers would do something foolish whereby their safety was imperilled. O’Donovan J was satisfied that, in the circumstances, the train-driver could not have halted the train in time to avoid hitting the plaintiff. In apportioning 85% of fault to the plaintiff, the O’Donovan J held that he had been grossly irresponsible in sitting on a railway line at night whilst heavily intoxicated with alcohol. Accordingly, the total gross figure of Eur740,539 assessed as damages was reduced by 85%.

Mr. Justice Diarmuid B. O'Donovan

The plaintiff in this case, Derek Raleigh, is twenty eight years of age. At the time of the events which gave rise to this claim he was nearly 20 years of age and he was employed as an apprentice panel-beater with a company named Capital Cars and he resided at Tullamore in the County Offaly. He sat for the leaving certificate examination in the year 1993 and passed all subjects with the exception of Mathematics and Irish. David Raleigh is currently unemployed and resides in Tullamore with his partner and three children. He comes to Court seeking damages for injuries which he suffered as a result of an accident in which he was involved at a portion of the railway line between Clara and Tullamore; an accident which occurred sometime between 3.30 a.m and 4.30 a.m. on the morning of Sunday the 12th August, 1995. On that occasion, he was struck by one of the defendants” trains at a location which was approximately a quarter of a mile on the Clara side of Tullamore Railway Station and, as a result, Derek Raleigh sustained very serious injuries; the most severe of which were to his right leg which resulted in a below knee amputation.


In the light of the evidence which I heard, and, in particularly that of Derek Raleigh, himself, I am satisfied that, on the evening of the 12th August, 1995, which was a Saturday, the plaintiff, who lived about 10 minutes” walk from the Clara/Tullamore Railway Line went to an off-licence premises where he purchased a number of cans of lager and then collected his girlfriend, met up with two other friends named Cosgrave and Murray and went to a section of the Clara/Tullamore Railway Line; a section which the plaintiff said, was one at which people were accustomed to congregate from time to time for the purpose of socialising and, in particular, having drinks and a section, which he, himself, had frequented regularly since he was ten or twelve years of age. Access to the section of the said railway line to which he went to on that occasion, was gained by climbing a four foot six inch high wall and then negotiating a steep bank about eighteen feet long. This wall and bank are shown in Photograph No. 17 of a book of photographs produced by Mr. James Canty B.E., who gave evidence on behalf of the defence. Having negotiated the said bank, the plaintiff and his companions then went to an area which is shown in Photograph No. 23 of the said set of photographs where they stopped near the railway line and had some drinks. In this regard, the plaintiff conceded under cross-examination, that, while he had frequented that place regularly since he was young boy, he had been chased away from it on a number of occasions by personnel from Iarnród Éireann and he agreed if, on any occasion, on which he had been there, he saw personnel from the railway company approaching, he would run away. He also agreed that he had seen other people being chased away from the location by members of the Railway Company's staff. In those circumstances, I am quite satisfied that, at that location, the plaintiff was a trespasser on the defendant's property and I am satisfied that, being close to a railway line, it was an obvious place of danger, as Mr. Frank Abbot, an engineer, who gave evidence on behalf of the plaintiff asserted. Furthermore, I am satisfied that the plaintiff, himself, was aware that, apart from the fact that that was a dangerous place to be, it was a place at which his presence was not welcome by the defendants; in other words, that he was an unwelcome trespasser. However, Guard Bernard Doheny gave evidence that it was an area which was frequented by young people over the years although, occasionally, the Garda Siochána received requests from Iarnród Éireann to remove trespassers from the area.


Having had some drinks at the point which I have indicated, it appears that some other persons arrived at that place and the plaintiff and his three companions decided to move to another location beside the railway line; this being a place about two hundred yards in the Clara direction; a place shown in Photograph No. 4 of the said set of photographs. Again, it was suggested by the plaintiff that this was another location at which people were accustomed to gather for the purpose of socialising. Over the next couple of hours, it appears that the plaintiff and his three companions had more drink, and then, his two male friends left, leaving the plaintiff and his girlfriend sitting on sleepers with their backs to the railway line. Mr. Raleigh told me and I have no reason to doubt him that, during the evening, he consumed six, seven or eight cans of lager. He said that he was tired because he had been working late that day and, during previous days, had been involved in a lot of football training. In any event, for whatever reason, he said that he and his girlfriend, fell asleep while sitting on the sleepers with their backs to the railway line. His next memory is hearing the horn, or hooter, of a train which woke him up. He said that he looked to his left; that is in the direction of Clara, and he saw the light of a train approaching. It appeared to him to be very close and, as he said "travelling hard". He grabbed his girlfriend (apparently, she had not wakened up) and, in a crouched position, pulled her away. However, while it seems that he succeeded in getting her away from the railway line, his own right leg was struck by the train.


Mr. Raleigh blamed the driver of the train for what happened; for driving too fast and for only sounding his horn, or hooter on one occasion. Mr. Frank Abbot also expressed the view that the driver of the train had not been driving with sufficient care, as a result of which the plaintiff had suffered his injuries. However, the thrust of the plaintiff's case against the defendants, as expressed by his legal team on his behalf, was that the defendants had negligently contributed to the incident which befell him by facilitating and tolerating access by the public and, in particular, by the plaintiff to their railway line. In this regard, Mr. Abbot described the route by which the plaintiff gained access to the railway line as a "structured access" and he said it comprised a metalled pathway on the railway side of the four foot, six inch wall which the plaintiff had climbed over and a line which was cut in briars on that side of the wall. He said that this metalled pathway was constructed of road building material; he said that there six to ten tonnes of it, which he believed had been taken from a nearby quarry and deliberately brought to that area for the purpose of constructing a path. In my view, this was pure speculation on Mr. Abbot's part with little or no justification for it, and, indeed,...

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