Two of the country's farming organisations have welcomed the High Court's decision to overturn a compensation claim to a hillwalker who fell and injured her knee.
Teresa Wall, from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, County Dublin, had claimed she tripped and fell after her foot had snagged in a hole in one of the old railway sleepers that made up a boardwalk just below the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail near Roundwood on August 6, 2013.
As a result, she sued the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), who placed the boardwalk on the lands. Last year a Dublin Circuit Court judge found the NPWS was negligent and awarded Ms Wall €40,000 damages. The NPWS, who denied negligence, appealed that ruling to the High Court.
But Mr Justice Michael White ruled in the appeal case that Ms Wall had contributed to her injuries.
Had the Circuit Court’s decision been upheld, fears were expressed during the appeal that the popular walking route would disintegrate because private landowners would withdraw their consent allowing walkers on their property.
Reacting to the court decision, ICMSA president, John Comer, said that the decision represented “a very welcome application of reality and responsibility” to what was in danger of becoming a chaotic situation that stripped landowners of all protection while absolving walkers of any responsibilities.
He said that the ICMSA thought Mr Justice White had, come down on the side of fairness and reality in this decision.
Had the original award been allowed stand, it would have destroyed any prospect of a working relationship between landowners, local and national agencies and walkers, said Mr Comer.
“There has to be some reasonable degree of responsibility assumed by walkers and the idea that any injury suffered in the pursuit of your hobby - which you are being allowed to enjoy through the generosity of other individuals and agencies - gives you scope to sue those benefactors is very unfair and unworkable,” said the ICMSA president.
Mr Comer said that ICMSA had always defended the rights of farmers and other landowners who were berated for not permitting all and any walkers to use their land for the purposes of walking or leisure without adequate legal protections or clarifications being established.
“We warned time and again that the legal situation was too vague and that scope for precisely this kind of legal action was easily identifiable. Mr Justice White’s identification of negligence on the part of the walker is no more than a reasonable request that individuals must accept some reasonable degree responsibility for their own welfare if a system of public walkways and publicly maintained nature trails was to be at all possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock also welcomed the decision.
“At last we are seeing common sense prevail. Farmers would be generally willing to allow walkers on their land but the niggling concern about possible compo claims is a real difficulty. The original award of a substantial amount of damages was not helpful so we are pleased with today’s outcome,” he said.
Mr Sherlock praised the National Parks and Wildlife Service for “doing us all a favour” in appealing the award.
“We need to build relations between landowners and walkers and the original award would have been very detrimental to this goal,” he sad.
Mr Sherlock stated that farmers appreciated that the country should be enjoyed and experienced by as many as possible, but people must take responsibility for their own actions while out using our countryside.
“Landowners cannot be held accountable for people's misfortunes while out walking. Farmers are under more than enough stress already without the added pressure of looking after walkers who enter their lands,” he said.