The Supermac's fast food chain has been ordered to pay over €16,000 in damages to an Athlone woman, arising out of a personal injury claim.
57 year old Pamela Dudgeon had sued the company, claiming she sustained lower back injuries after falling from a seat, at the company’s Eyre Square restaurant.
She maintained she had fallen to the ground, when a chair she was sitting in broke, in January 2017.
The case came before Galway Circuit Civil Court today.
Supermac’s denied that it had been negligent.
Giving evidence, Ms. Dudgeon outlined how she had travelled by train to Galway from her home in Athlone, for a day out with her mother and her sister.
When they went to Supermacs for something to eat, Ms Dudgeon sat in a chair, which rotated, but was fixed to the ground. As she was waiting for the food to arrive, Ms Dudgeon left her seat to alert another customer that money on the ground might have fallen from their pocket.
She then returned to the table and as she sat down "the seat came off" and she was "gone over". She described the movement she experienced as being "like a jolt… it happened so suddenly".
Ms Dudgeon said she was embarrassed in the aftermath of the incident and her sister told her she was "white as a ghost".
She told the Court she felt no pain at that stage but in the days that followed, she experienced pain in her lower back and right buttock.
Visits to her GP were followed by X-Rays and MRI scans, and Ms Dudgeon was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers.
She contended that she had fallen to the floor.
But CCTV footage from Supermac’s, which was shown in Court today, showed that Ms Dudgeon had not fallen to the ground.
Instead, the chair was described as having "broken away", with the back of the seat appearing to come loose from the base.
After the video was shown, Ms Dudgeon said she accepted that she had not fallen to the ground, "but when it happened, I genuinely thought that I did".
The Court was also shown video footage filmed by a private investigator, contracted by Supermac’s, which showed Ms. Dudgeon holding her grandchild in her arms. Other material showed her shopping and lifting 5 litre water bottles into a trolley.
Ms Dudgeon responded by saying: "I’m not a liar, I have the pain, the chair broke and whatever happened when it jolted, I’m left like this".
Last November, the High Court rejected an application by Ms Dudgeon’s legal team for access to the CCTV footage of the incident. Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he was satisfied she did not need this in order to progress her claim, as Supermac’s had already admitted the chair broke and was defective.
Today, at Galway Circuit Civil Court, John Hogan BL said it would be a "gross injustice for the plantiff’s case to fail, simply because she got one element wrong". He said the movement of the broken chair led to his client suffering an injury to her lower back and her buttocks.
Judge Eoin Garavan said the courts should have no time for unmeritorious claims.
But he said if someone had a valid claim, the court should recognise the reality of that and award damages with proportionality.
He detailed how the personal injury summons stated that the plaintiff fell to the ground, in "a twisting type mechanism" and suffered pain.
Judge Garavan said Ms Dudgeon did not fall, but in this instance, this did not mean her case should fail.
The chair had "snapped suddenly" and while Ms Dudgeon did not fall to the ground, she expected when she sat in the chair "that her buttocks would be embraced by the seat".
Instead, the seat had failed, it was not in good condition and could have led to an extremely serious injury.
He said the chair was not fit for purpose and was not safe.
Citing medical evidence presented today, the Judge was satisfied that Ms Dudgeon had "a certain level of injuries from this matter". He said these seemed to have persisted for two, to two and a half years.
He said the plaintiff had proved her case, she had suffered some injuries and he assessed damages at €16,400.