herald

Monday 5 December 2016

'I'm unhappy at being called gold-digger' - designer who lost trees claim for €70k

Francesca De Cataldo at her home where roots from the eucalyptus trees have damaged her garden
Francesca De Cataldo at her home where roots from the eucalyptus trees have damaged her garden
Giant eucalyptus trees outside the home of Francesca De Cataldo in Killiney

An Italian designer with a history of making claims for compensation has insisted she is not a gold-digger.

Francesca De Cataldo (40), of Killiney Hill Road, Killiney, was in court this week in relation to a claim she made for €70,000 for damage to a wall caused by trees that border the property she lives in.

She told the Herald that all of the compensation claims she has made are strictly on points of law and not for personal gain.

In an interview yesterday, she explained her frequent litigation.

"I do not like being portrayed as a gold-digger," she said. "Any case I have taken is on a point of law, it is not for personal gain, and my complaint about the trees beside my home is not only about something that is dangerous for me but for any guests who visit me or a member of the public who is passing under them."

Falling

In 2009, she successfully sued the Avoca shop in Dublin's Suffolk Street for €12,000 after a frying pan fell on her head while she climbed the stairs.

In 2012, she lost an action against an Applegreen service station in Ballybrack when she made a claim for €83,000 after falling in the forecourt. She is appealing that ruling.

In 2011, De Cataldo's company failed in an action against client Val Timon, a solicitor and developer, when she sought payment of more than €77,000 for furnish- ing apartments he owned in Dublin and France.

She said that ruling is also under appeal.

"My previous complaints and claims do not colour this case about the trees," she said.

"This is a separate issue, again on a point of law. I am not happy about being portrayed as a person who makes claims all the time. I have been portrayed as a gold-digger.

"In Ireland there is a habit of gossiping about others, but I have taken these cases for the right reasons."

De Cataldo gave the Circuit Civil Court an undertaking last March not to cut down trees locally believed to have been planted on Killiney Hill to mark a visit to Ireland by Queen Victoria.

On Tuesday, De Cataldo was in court to hear Judge Jacqueline Linnane dismiss her claim, with costs, against Abberley Management, which owns the lane the trees are planted in, and strike out her claim against Dun Laoghaire County Council, also with costs.

The judge said the court had been "quite taken aback by Ms De Cataldo's mode of operating" and had received an undertaking that her felling of the trees would not proceed.

De Cataldo, who is from Venice and has been living in Killiney for 11 years, does not own the bungalow she lives in. She said she managed the property on behalf of her landlady, for whom she acted as agent whenever maintenance needed to be done.

"I am prepared to pay the cost of taking down the trees even though they are not mine. The bill would be around €9,000. Is that something a gold-digger would do?" she said.

De Cataldo vowed to keep up her campaign to remove the 30-metre-tall eucalyptus trees that stand imposingly only nine metres from her bungalow.

Tree experts who compiled a report to support De Cataldo's claim say they have a fungal disease at the roots, an unbalanced overhanging canopy and internal rot in three cases.

They recommended that the trees be cut down and the roots removed.

"They have suffered from historical stem failure resulting in large limbs snapping from the canopy. Given the height at which these limbs fall from, should they hit a pedestrian it could lead to serious injury or death," the report states.

De Cataldo said: "I am not easily scared, but in my house on a windy day or night I am terrified.

"Branches have fallen from them before and the fire brigade has been out to deal with them.

"The legal costs so far have been five times the cost of cutting down the trees. Where is the logic in that?"

The nine trees dominate the skyline and dwarf the house and are believed to be among the tallest and oldest eucalyptus trees in Ireland.

"The roots are coming under the foundations of the garage and the tree experts have said they have grown beyond a safe age," said De Cataldo.

Kill

"They also said they have been pruned, and that leaves all the weight on my side and that adds to the risk to property and safety of people.

"When huge branches fell off them in the past they blocked the road and cars had to drive on the opposite side to get around them.

"The branches were very big, large enough to kill someone if they were underneath."

De Cataldo also said that the most recent court sitting in relation to the claim for damage caused by the trees was a success on her behalf because she won the right to institute further proceedings against Abberley Management without prior approval of the court.

Abberley had sought an injunction preventing her from issuing further proceedings, but this was denied by Judge Jacqueline Linnane at the Circuit Civil Court on Tuesday.

De Caltado is a co-director and secretary of a music company called Sundogs Rock Productions.

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