Woman settles injury claim after falling on ‘defective tile’ as judge slams defence for suggesting fraud

A 39-year-old Co Meath woman, who was injured in a fall in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital, was entitled to succeed in a personal injury claim against the Dublin hospital but also to have her name cleared of alleged fraud and dishonesty, a judge has stated.

Circuit Court President Mr Justice Raymond Groarke said the hospital, the biggest orthopaedic treatment centre in Ireland, had put forward a defence in which it had accused Joanne Shelly, of Birch Close, Johnstown Wood, Navan, of fraud.

Judge Groarke said the defence put forward by the Finglas hospital was that not only had she placed her foot on defective tiling in a corridor floor and tripped, but had done so on purpose so she could bring a fraudulent claim.

“That is their defence and I am putting it as bluntly as the defendant would not put it,” the judge said.

He told barrister Darach MacNamara, counsel for Ms Shelly, that her mother’s friend Derri Anne Morgan had been pictured on CCTV pointing out to Ms Shelly the defect in tiling in the corridor just seconds before she had fallen.

“As she gets to it the inference I am being asked to draw is that Ms Morgan was a party to this fraud by pointing it out and that Ms Shelly managed to get her toe into it and fell,” Judge Groarke said.

The judge told Mr MacNamara, who appeared with Dillon Geraghty Solicitors, it had never been put to Ms Shelly by the hospital defence team that she was a fraud or to her mother Margaret Poole or to Derri Anne Morgan that it was a set-up.

“I find the defence to be outrageous and not supported by the evidence,” Judge Groarke said.

“This plaintiff is clearly demonstrably innocent and certainly innocent of any imputation upon her character that she was in any way motivated by fraud.  I want to make that absolutely clear.”

Judge Groarke said the reality was that the tiles in question had historically caused trouble.

Ms Morgan had slipped and fallen on the same defective tiles several years beforehand and had been astonished and flabbergasted on this day in January 2014 to find the defect had never been removed and was describing it to anybody who would listen.

He said the second leg of the defence was that the CCTV had demonstrated that as Ms Shelly was walking down the corridor she had altered her step so as to make contact with the defect in the floor which would trip her and cause her to fall and be injured.

“It is a preposterous suggestion,” Judge Groarke said. “I cannot contemplate for one moment that this plaintiff is a fraud or dishonest and it is not supported by either of the two hypotheses put forward.”

Judge Groarke said not only was Ms Shelly entitled to succeed against the hospital, she was entitled to have her name cleared in the manner he had outlined in court.

Shelly told the court she had been at home in Navan when her mother rang about an altercation she had with her boss at the Cappagh hospital where she worked.  She and Ms Morgan had driven to the hospital to support her mother who was distressed after the incident. The three of them had been walking along the corridor when she tripped and fell.

Derri Anne Morgan said the reason she had been seen pointing on CCTV to the defective tiles was because she had been shocked to see that the hospital still had not fixed the floor on which she had fallen “in the exact same place” seven years earlier. She had sued the hospital at the time and agreed she had won significant compensation.

All she remembered was Joanne falling to the ground immediately after she had pointed out the defect. Ms Shelly said she had injured her left wrist, left shoulder and lower back in the fall.  She denied a suggestion by the hospital’s legal team that she had altered her gait and step after Ms Morgan had pointed to “the imperfection on the tile.”

Forensic engineer David Brown said the vinyl tiles were attached to a two foot square shore cover on the corridor floor and a significant fracture on it should have been repaired.

Mr MacNamara told Judge Groarke today that following his ruling on liability in the case the proceedings had been settled and could be struck out with an order for Ms Shelly’s legal costs.  It is believed the settlement was in the upper regions of the maximum €60,000 jurisdiction of the court.

Costs to be borne by the hospital are estimated to add another €35,000 to the bill.