My daughter tells me that Copper Face Jacks is the best night club in Dublin. I have no reason to disbelieve her. It seems that generally young people go there in groups and this appears to have been what occurred on the morning of the 4th August 2006 when the Plaintiff Ciara O’ Connell attended at Copper Face Jacks at 12.30a.m Friday morning before the August bank holiday ( “Ciara O’ Connell Plaintiff –v-Breanagh Catering Limited T/A Copper Face Jacks 2009/835P; Judgment of Mr. Justice Ryan delivered 28/06/13)
A Night Out with her Friends
Ms. O’Connell attended with a large group of friends, one of whom was her friend, Noel Humphries. While they had been in a public house before, there was no suggestion that the Plaintiff was drunk or incapable. Part of the group was dancing and they included the Plaintiff and Mr. Humphries. In the words of the Judge, “it was modern dancing of the kind that takes place in night clubs and which is not easy to describe in terms that make sense. Mr. Condron SC for the Defendant described it as dirty dancing, after the film”.
The Plaintiff and Mr. Humphries were in a group of dancers. At the critical time when the Plaintiff suffered her injury, she was dancing with Mr. Humphries. The particular dance involved Ms. O’ Connell “moving in a backwards direction with Mr. Humphries dancing similarly in unison with her – more or less – close to her and in front of her. Her hands were resting on his forearms. He was moving backwards in time with her as she danced behind him and resting her hands on his forearm. This meant that they were quite close together. As they moved backwards in this fashion, Mr. Humphries fell back and on top of Ms. Connell who hit the ground heavily and sustained injury” to her left non dominant arm which subsequently required surgery consisting of open reduction and internal fixation, with some residual restriction of movement and significant scarring.
The evidence appeared to indicate that the floor was wet but there was an issue as to whether the particular section of floor where the Plaintiff was dancing was in fact wet. Mr. Justice Ryan however stated that the important question was, not whether the floor was wet, but whether the floor was slippery. Evidence was given by the Plaintiff’s Consulting Engineer, Mr. J D Kirwan Browne, who had tested the floor in the course of his inspection in 2009. The determination of the court would rest on whether it could be established that the Plaintiff had slipped on a certain section of the floor consisting of pine boards that accounted for the great majority of the dance floor, which were safe even when wet or whether the Plaintiff had slipped on an iroco hardwood which was slippery when wet. The video evidence appeared to support the proposition that the Plaintiff and Mr. Humphries had been dancing on the pine boards section.
Mr. Justice Ryan came to the conclusion that the Plaintiff and Mr. Humphries were dancing backwards in close proximity in a situation that did indeed carry the risk that Mr. Humphries or Ms. O’ Connell would miss a step or lose their footing and that could happen, he believed, relatively easily. Because this carried the risk of falling he believed that the accident occurred due to unfortunate circumstances and that the Plaintiff was simply “very unlucky to suffer the injury that she did”. In the Judges words, “it was just the combination of circumstances that meant Mr. Humphries fell on top of her which precipitated the heavy fall and which resulted in her sustaining the injury that she did”.
In the circumstances, the Judge dismissed the Plaintiffs Claim.
These “Slip and Fall Claims” against Night Clubs generally prove to be difficult. Even in circumstances where the dance hall floor may have been wet, this does not necessarily mean that the floor was slippy. Nor does it mean that the proprietors of the disco are liable for the accident. The Plaintiff must prove that the proprietors were negligent in their maintenance and care of the floor. In many instances, the proprietors will claim in Court that they have a Rota for the cleaning and maintenance of floors and in those circumstances are in a position to disprove negligence.
In this case, the Plaintiff had the added difficulty that she had engaged in “modern dancing”, which lead the Judge to conclude that she was the author of her own misfortune. A case of dirty dancing leading to a slippery Claim?