Wednesday 20 February 2019

€50k damages for gravedigger who fell on ice and broke ankle

Gravedigger Nicky O’Brien sued after he slipped and fell. Pic: Collins
Gravedigger Nicky O’Brien sued after he slipped and fell. Pic: Collins

A gravedigger who broke an ankle after slipping on ice at a funeral has been awarded €50,000.

High Court judge Mr Justice Kevin Cross said Nicky O'Brien struck him as a "most decent individual" who did not exaggerate his injuries and did not even mention in court that he had been left with scars.

Gravedigging, the judge said, is a noble vocation and the graveyard where the accident happened - St Ibar's Cemetery near Wexford town - is a typical old graveyard, which has hazards and is not laid out with the same precision as those in continental Europe.

The judge believed the accident was caused by the slippery nature of the ground, which was sheltered by a headstone.


If there had been grit, the judge said, the accident would have been avoided.

Mr Justice Cross also rejected there was contributory negligence on the part of Mr O'Brien.

"He was not running. He was wearing his work boots. He did nothing inappropriate," said Mr Justice Cross.

Mr O'Brien had told the court he was walking away after the grave of an elderly woman had been covered when he fell.

"I felt a crack in my foot. The path was slippy. It should have been salted," he said.

He later had to have reconstructive surgery on his right ankle and was out of work for about eight months after the accident on January 8, 2009.

Mr Justice Cross said the issue in the case was whether Mr O'Brien's fall was caused by the slippy nature of the ground because of frost and ice.

The judge accepted that salt had been requested and a bag of sand at the cemetery had been exhausted.

Mr O'Brien, in his evidence, said he was supported by the cemetery caretaker at the time and a mourner at the funeral.

Mr Justice Cross said he had been asked by Wexford Borough Council to prefer the theory offered by a witness from the Met Office, who had examined the reports and the data for the date in question, over the evidence of witnesses to the accident.

The judge said he believed the witnesses.

He awarded €40,000 for pain and suffering to date and a further €10,000 for future pain and suffering, with special damages, for a total of €50,850.

Mr O'Brien (56), of Windmill Heights, Wexford, had sued his employer at the time, Wexford Borough Council, which had denied the claims.

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