Injured Fermanagh birthday party guest loses £100k lawsuit

Pacemaker Press 22/5/2013   Belfast High Court Building  in Belfast City centre  Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 22/5/2013 Belfast High Court Building in Belfast City centre Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A birthday party guest who sustained severe leg injuries by falling onto a toppled and broken urn at a Co Fermanagh castle has lost a £100,000 lawsuit.

Leanne Brown, 33, suffered deep lacerations in an accident that occurred while she was staying at Belle Isle Castle for a masquerade ball in November 2013.

She sued Abercorn Estates, owners of the popular venue in Lisbellaw, for alleged negligence in failing to secure the ceramic pot valued at £2,500 to its stand.

But a High Court judge dismissed the case after rejecting claims that Mrs Brown was injured while reaching to close a window.

Mr Justice Stephens said: “She has not persuaded me that anything else occurred other than that she leant heavily against the jardiniere and then fell horizontally against it, causing the upper part of it to fall onto the ground, where it broke, and then she fell on the broken pieces.”

Mrs Brown and her husband were among 30 guests staying in the Castle and adjoining cottages for a friend’s 30th birthday celebrations, the court heard.

She described how she attempted to close an open window in the dining room after feeling a chill.

The urn, a Victorian piece dating back to between 1850-1875 and weighing 38kg, was located on a base in the window bay.

Mrs Brown stated that as she stretched up, putting body weight on the pot, it slid off the stand before she also fell to the ground.

She remembered looking down and seeing the exposed bone in her leg.

The plaintiff sustained serious leg wounds, including a fracture, and lost heavy amounts of blood.

According to the judge her life was saved by the intervention of another guest who applied a tourniquet.

Lawyers for Mrs Brown claimed the defendant was guilty of negligence and breach of statutory duty.

They contended that steps should have been taken to secure the urn, potentially involving the use of cable ties, in a dining room where 30 people were gathered.

With total damages in the case agreed at £100,000, the court battle centred on liability.

As well as contesting the lawsuit, Abercorn Estates originally sought to recover £2,500 in damages from the plaintiff for her alleged negligence in causing the urn’s breakage.

That counterclaim was later abandoned, apparently in consideration of Mrs Brown’s serious injuries.

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Stephens described aspects of her evidence as vague.

Medical notes and records of accounts shortly after the accident contain no reference to closing a window.

Instead, the court heard, they support the proposition that she fell against the urn.

The judge also noted an account from the castle’s manager that Mrs Brown’s husband had been apologetic and offered to pay for the damage.

Entering judgment for the defendant, he identified no foreseeable danger in the heavy urn becoming detached from its stand, and no failure to secure it to the base.

Mr Justice Stephens confirmed: “I find that the plaintiff was aware that the jardiniere was an ornamental piece which was clearly not meant to be leant upon.”