Fall on beach access ramp
Anita Cray, the plaintiff, fractured her ankle as she descended with her two sisters on to a beach in North County Dublin from a concrete ramp, installed by the defendants, Fingal County Council. She alleged that the fall was caused by her standing on a ledge of concrete, protruding out from the ramp on its left hand side, which had been covered by sand. The case being made against the defendants, was that they failed in their duty as occupiers of the location in causing or permitting this piece of ledge of concrete to protrude from the end of the ramp, which in combination with the shallow covering of sand over it, created a trap for the plaintiff as she attempted to step off the ramp on to the beach.
It was accepted that the defendants were the occupiers of the location and that the plaintiff was a recreational user as defined in the Occupier’s Liability Act 1995. Accordingly the duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff was that set out in section 4 of this Act
‘In respect of a danger existing on the premises, an occupier owes towards a recreational user of the premises or a trespasser thereon a duty:
Not to injure the person or damage the property of the person intentionally, and not to act with reckless disregard for the person or the property of the person’
The mechanism of the fall was disputed by the defendants.
Photographs of the location taken at various times indicated that the sand level was subject to considerable change due to the action of the tide.
The judge accepted that when the ramp was constructed there was some leaking or oozing out of concrete beneath the shuttering at various parts of the ramp. However the defendant’s engineer disputed the existence of the ledge of concrete which the plaintiff alleged was what caused her to fall. In any event, between the date of the accident and the date the location was inspected by the defendant’s engineer the ledge could not be found and if it had existed, was probably washed away by the action of the tide.
In summing up, the judge stated that as the plaintiff walked down the ramp she hesitated as there was a drop from the end of the ramp to the sand. She did not use the handrail provided, nor did she turn sideways so as to carefully lower herself from the ramp to the beach. In taking a normal step, the judge found it probable that her foot came to land on the sand well in excess of six inches from the front of the ramp, and probably closer to two feet from the ramp. This would have taken her footfall well beyond the concrete ledge found by the plaintiff and her two sisters after her fall. Consequently the judge found that the concrete ledge was unlikely to have been the cause of the fall.
The judge found that the plaintiff underestimated the depth of the step, and as a consequence stumbled when her foot finally landed on the sand. The surface of a beach is by its nature uneven and of varying consistency. This, in combination with the plaintiff’s misjudgement, could have resulted in the fall. No blame can be attached to the defendants because of the natural uneven and inconsistent nature of the surface of the beach.
The judge went on to say that even if the protruding ledge of concrete did cause the plaintiff’s fall, this would not amount to a breach of duty under S4 of the Occupiers Liability Act.
The plaintiff’s engineer had argued that the ledge was the result of faulty construction of the ramp and that the concrete should have gone down a further two to two and a half feet. But this was contested by the defendants who stated that the construction methods allowed the sea to get under the ramp thereby reducing the forces exerted by the sea. The conditions for the ledge to be a danger would only exist when the level of the sand was at or about the level of the protrusion so that it was thinly coated by the sand as to be invisible but at the same time close enough to the surface of the sand to interfere with a footfall that came in contact with it.
The judge stated that, having regard to the reasonable objectives sought to be attained by the design and construction of the ramp that was adopted by the defendants, the failure to construct the ramp to a deeper depth, bearing in mind the limited nature of the potential danger, could not be said to be breach of any duty of care as occupier known to the law. Nor could it be said that there was a reckless disregard for the person of the plaintiff, as contemplated in S 4 of the Act. The Judge stated that, as it would be necessary for the plaintiff to establish reckless disregard, the evidence goes nowhere near reaching that threshold, the plaintiff was not entitled to succeed and the case was dismissed.
Cray v Fingal County Council  IEHC 19
Cray v Fingal County Council  IEHC 19
There are additional downloadable files associated with this article
This case law entry was written by Tom O Keeffe and was published in August 2017
This website entry was last updated on 3 August, 2017