Hill walker Teresa Wall (59) of Rathingle Cottages, Swords, said in the Circuit Civil Court that as the result of a laceration to her right knee she can no longer climb or run marathons.
The woman, who weekly ran a half marathon as a hobby, told her barrister Peter McParland that she had to receive seven stitches in a gash to her knee after falling on a board-walk in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Wall told Mr McParland, who appeared with Shannons Solicitors, that her foot had snagged in a hole in one of a number of old railway sleepers that made up an EU ground conservation boardwalk just below the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail.
The outcome of the case before Judge Jacqueline Linnane could have serious repercussions for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The court heard that although there had been hundreds of falls over the years by walkers in the country’s various national parks – many resulting in broken bones – this was the first in which the Service had been sued for negligence and breach of duty.
Mr McParland said the wooden walkway constituted “a structure” and the Occupiers Liability Act imposed a much higher duty of care on the Parks and Wildlife Service in the maintenance and management of such a development.
Kevin D’Arcy, counsel for the State Claims Agency, said Ms Walls had voluntarily participated in a unique rugged sporting activity of known reasonable risks and that the Parks and Wildlife Service was entitled to rely on the doctrine of volente non fit injuria (no wrong is done to one who consents).
Mr D’Arcy said the defendant denied negligence or breach of duty and, in the event of a finding against it, pleaded contributory negligence on the part of Ms Wall.
Ms Wall said she had been hill walking for 40 years and had walked “all around the world” with her husband. On August 6, 2013 they were coming down the mountain after a 20-mile-plus walk when they “obeyed the laws of the mountain” by following a sign which directed hikers onto the boardwalk. She had paid the price for that.
She had fallen forward and lacerated her knee on a rusty nail. Her husband had helped her off the mountain and had brought her to the VHI Swiftcare Clinic in Swords where she had received a tetanus injection and seven stitches.
Ms Wall said the boardwalk was in a disgraceful state. Old railway sleepers had been put on the mountain and left to rot. She had been inhibited in her work and social enjoyment of life and now was no longer able to climb or participate in marathons.
Forensic engineer Pat Culleton said a single sleeper had rotted away at the point where steel cleats had once attached the rail line to it. He said walkers were deliberately steered on to the boardwalks.
Enda Mullan, District Conservation Officer for the Wicklow Mountains National Park, said that in 20 years she had never had a complaint relating to a any fall on the 130 kilometre Wicklow Way.
Two outdoor recreation consultants who traversed the mountain path on two occasions each gave it a fit for purpose report.
Paul Romeril, forensic engineer for the defence, said there was a 100 millimetre wide hole on the sleeper but he did not accept it created a hazard.
Cormac McDonnell, National Trails Office Manager for Sport Ireland told Mr D’Arcy he had recently walked the boardwalks and had found them “extremely robust, durable and fit for purpose.”
Wesley Atkinson, regional manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, told Mr D’Arcy he was a trained mountaineer and international hill walker. There was an annual footfall of 30,000 on the Wicklow Way and it was planned from May to begin replacing railway sleepers on boardwalks with pressure treated timber.
He said the work would be expensive as some of the new timbers would have to be flown in by helicopter and the old sleepers removed by air. Railway sleepers had a finite shelf life and it was expected the new timbers could be used for 30 years or more.