A HIGH COURT damages award to a woman who banged her knee against the leg of a table while sitting down to dinner could have serious repercussions for hoteliers and restaurateurs.
Justice Mary Faherty heard that hairdresser Annette O’Connor had been directed to a table in the Mullingar Park Hotel restaurant, had waited while the manager withdrew her chair, then sat down and injured her left knee as she pulled her seat into the table.
O’Connor, 48, of The View, Larchill, Santry, Dublin, had booked Mother’s Day weekend at the hotel with five friends in March 2011.
She claimed that being directed to the table setting right over the leg, which was concealed by a tablecloth, constituted “a trap” and negligence on the part of hotel owner Euro Plaza Hotel, which trades as the Mullingar Park Hotel.
O’Connor told Padraig McCarton SC, who appeared for her with barrister Paul Twomey, that she had not been given any warning from the restaurant manager that the leg was hidden right beneath where she had been directed to sit.
She said the group of friends had been staying as guests and booked a table in the dining room for the Saturday evening and had been shown to their reserved seats by the restaurant manager.
She told McCartan, who appeared with Murphy Brady Solicitors, that the dining table had been set in advance and was covered with a long tablecloth.
O’Connor said the manager pulled out a chair at the table to allow her take her seat. She sat down and pulled in her chair to sit comfortably. As she pulled in her chair her left knee struck a leg that had been obscured by the tablecloth.
She had been awarded €18,000 damages at Mullingar Circuit Court by Judge Doirbhile Flanagan, whose decision was appealed to the High Court. Justice Faherty affirmed the lower court’s finding and increased damages to €20,000 and costs.
O’Connor’s legal team claimed negligence against the hotel on the basis the table setup constituted a trap or hazard for patrons and that their client had been directed to sit in an unsafe spot.
It was alleged the hotel had obscured her view of the legs by use of the tablecloth and had failed to warn her of the presence of the metal leg she struck. It was also claimed the table place setting had been prepared in “a reckless or careless and inattentive manner.”
O’Connor claimed she immediately felt pain and shock but had her meal before retiring to her room, where staff had brought her an ice pack and a drink to settle her nerves.
When she returned home she had attended her local doctor, then the Beaumont Hospital for x-rays and later a specialist in muscle spasms. The injury had disrupted her personal and professional life as a hairdresser.
Judge Faherty said she accepted it was foreseeable that an accident such as occurred could and did happen and that liability lay with the hotel.
Contributory negligence could not be applied to O’Connor as she had been specifically directed to the table and could not reasonably have been expected to have embarked upon an investigation as to where the legs were.
Witnesses on behalf of the hotel told the court the table was one of a type used all over the world and had been found to be perfectly suitable in the global catering trade.
A forensic engineer said that if he had been asked pre-accident to risk assess the set up in the dining room he would not have directed the hotel to warn people about the presence of the table leg under the tablecloth.