In a Circuit Court judgment on Friday Teresa Wall from Swords, Co. Dublin who had sued the National Parks & Wildlife Service following a fall on a boardwalk section of the Wicklow Way was awarded €40,000 in damages.
Responding to the judgment Mountaineering Ireland President Paul Kellagher stated:
“The Mountaineering Community has a long held and proud tradition of personal responsibility. Mountaineering Ireland feels that today’s judgment runs contrary to this long established principle. We cannot continue to live our lives without the acceptance of personal responsibility, in the belief that every misfortune is someone else’s responsibility.
The Judge found that Wicklow Mountains National Park’s maintenance regime was poor and made the award under section 4(4) of the Occupiers Liability Act which places a higher duty of care on occupiers where structures are provided for use primarily by recreational users.
The National Parks & Wildlife Service had argued that the primary purpose of the boardwalk is conservation, to protect the surrounding blanket bog from further erosion and that the higher duty of care did not apply. The occupiers’ duty of care is minimal in situations where structures are not for use primarily by recreational users. The State Claims Agency which defended the case on behalf of the National Parks & Wildlife Service is appealing the decision to the High Court.
It is important to note that this case deals specifically with structures and that the Occupiers’ Liability Act is clearer with regard to natural features in the landscape. The law recognises that a degree of risk is inherent to hillwalking and other outdoor activities arising from a combination of the activity itself, changeable weather conditions and the character of the natural environment. Participants in outdoor activities are assumed to be aware of and take responsibility for managing these risks.
In 1871 the acclaimed mountaineer Edward Whymper wrote “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.” Kellagher added that this advice is as relevant today as it was then.
Friday’s judgment could have significant implications, it is welcome therefore that it is being appealed.