A woman who broke her ankle after falling on a church step moments after getting a rosary beads blessed has been awarded €25,000 in damages.
Margaret Loughney (62) of Carrowmore, Lacken, Ballina, claimed she was blinded by an outdoor spotlight and subsequently missed her step while leaving the sacristy of St Patrick’s Church, Lacken. As a result, she broke her left ankle. Ms Loughney says that three years after the incident, she still gets pains and is now unable to engage in her passion for set dancing.
The accident occurred on the evening of March 13, 2009, when Ms Loughney was leaving the sacristy of the church after she had asked Parish Priest, Reverend Patrick Hegarty to bless a rosary beads for an elderly neighbour.
Ms Loughney brought the claim of liability, which was heard last week in Castlebar Civil Court, against Fr Hegarty, who has since retired as Parish Priest.
She told the court that after thanking Fr Hegarty for blessing the beads, she went out the sacristy door and was blinded by an outdoor spotlight shining in her eyes.
As a result she claimed she missed the second step and fell on the ground and had to hop back to her car. The housewife said that she had to drive home in first gear because of the pain and that her husband had to carry her into her home.
The following day she was referred to Mayo General Hospital who confirmed she had fractured her metatarsal in her ankle. She was put in a half cast because her ankle was too swollen. A week later she was put in a full cast, which she wore for six weeks. She also suffered from an infection.
Ms Loughney explained the ankle still gets sore during cold weather, that she cannot go on long walks and that she can no longer wear high heals. She added she used to set dance twice a week and go on tours but cannot anymore because her ankle is too sore.
The court heard that since the incident, a second hand railing has been erected on the footsteps, along with yellow markings on the step, and that the spotlight has been taken from the ground and placed 30 feet up a tree.
When it was put to Ms Loughney by Mr John O’Donnell, counsel for Fr Hegarty that the spotlight was too far away and in the wrong position in order to blind her, she reiterated her claim she was blinded by the light and as a result missed the step. She said she did not use the hand rail because she was right handed and the rail was on the left hand side.
Evidence was also given by engineer Ann Kelly who explained that she set up the spotlight where it had been on the night in question and found that the light was not dazzling but lit up the entire area. She also claimed there was no requirement for the new handrail, as she felt there was nothing dangerous about the steps.
Fr Hegarty also gave evidence in which he explained that as far as he recalled, there had been no complaints about the lights blinding people but admitted that it could be dazzling when you would face it. He said that raising the light on the tree resulted in it being ‘kinder on the eyes’ and it was a big advantage.
In his ruling, Judge Thomas E O’Donnell said he was struck by Fr Hegarty’s ‘extremely fair evidence’ in which he said the light had its advantages but equally had its disadvantages. He said he accepted Ms Loughney’s version of events that she was momentarily dazzled by the light and missed the step, and that was the reason for her losing her footing.
Judge O’Donnell described what occurred to Ms Loughney as severe because after three years she has not made a full recovery, and he made a decree in favour of Ms Loughney, awarding her €25,000. He also granted Ms Loughney her costs.