The Court of Appeal has dismissed appeals brought against a €94,000 damages award made to a Ryanair cabin supervisor who slipped on greasy de-icing fluid trekked into one of the airline's planes by passengers.
Ryanair DAC had claimed as part of its appeal against a High Court decision that it was prejudiced by what it claimed were constant interjections by the judge, Mr Justice Alexander Owens, during the hearing of the action.
Fiona Nangle (41), Latt Hills, Cavan, successfully sued Ryanair over the accident when she fell on the vinyl floor surface in the forward cabin section shortly after take-off of a Dublin-Warsaw bound flight on February 11th 2018.
As a result of the fall, she claimed she suffered a spiral fracture to her right humerus, required surgery, was incapacitated for a number of months and needed assistance in daily tasks like looking after her children.
Ryanair denied her claims and argued she did not slip on de-icing fluid but had tripped.
In his judgement last year Mr Justice Owens found against the airline and awarded Ms Nangle a total of €70,000 general damages and €24,000 in special damages.
The airline appealed against that decision on liability, and the quantum of damages awarded to the Court of Appeal.
Its appeal was brought on grounds including that during the hearing Mr Justice Owens interjected excessively to the prejudice of the airline.
It also cubmiitted that the judge was wrong to rule out the evidence about DAA cleaning up operations and the associated cross-examination or to accept the evidence of the plaintiff’s expert over that of the defendant.
Ryanair also claimed that there was no evidence that there was de-icing fluid on the floor of the aircraft, and the judge was wrong to conclude that the plaintiff needed to be reminded of the hazard from de-icing fluid.
In her cross-appeal Ms Nangle argued that the quantum of general damages was inadequate.
She also claimed that the defendant’s duty was incorrectly found by the High Court to be limited to issuing a warning to staff of the risks of de-icing fluid being tracked onto aircraft.
The plaintiff also argued in her cross appeal that Mr Justice Owens had erred by failing to determine that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to take appropriate steps to address the hazard.
In its decision the CoA comprised of Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, Mr Justice Robert Haughton and Mr Justice Senan Allen dismissed all grounds of both appeals. and upheld the High Court's findings.
Giving the court's decision Mr Justice Noonan said the CoA could not see where the trial judge had erred.
The judge said that Ryanair had claimed that it was prejudiced in its defence of the proceedings by virtue of an unreasonable and excessive number of interjections by the trial judge.
The authority relied upon related to criminal case heard in the UK which suggests that a judge should refrain from excessive questioning which could give the impression to a jury that the judge does not believe what the particular witness is saying when that is solely and exclusively a matter for the jury.
Mr Justice Noonan said It was "difficult to see how that can have any relevance to a civil trial before a judge sitting alone."
The judge said that he had "difficulty in comprehending" this ground of Ryanair's appeal.
"It is certainly true that the judge in this case was very proactive and asked a lot of questions of witnesses, all of which were clearly designed to enhance his own understanding of the evidence."
However, at no stage was Ryanair's counsel "precluded from asking any question he wished to ask", and more tellingly, counsel was unable to point to any particular prejudice to the defendant said to have arisen from the interventions of the judge."
He added that no objection was taken during the trial to the judge’s interventions.
It was clear that the judge reflected carefully on the transcript of the evidence after the hearing before giving his considered judgment.
"In conducting a trial of this nature, judges ought not be expected to stay mute and maintain a lofty silence." Mr Justice Noonan said adding that lawyers often say they would "far prefer an interactive judge to one who is inscrutable."
Mr Justice Noonan added that having read the transcript and the CoA was satisfied that while the judge asked many questions of the witnesses on both sides, he was scrupulously fair in doing so and both sides were entirely uninhibited in the manner in which they were permitted to present their cases as they wished.
In respect of the issue of quantum Mr Justice Noonan said that nothing in his view had been advanced by either side in this appeal to suggest that the High Court erred in awarding the plaintiff €70,000 in general damages.
After dismissing the appeals Mr Justice Noonan said that Ms Nangle was entitled to her legal costs of Ryanair's appeal.
The Judge said the CoA was making no order as to costs in the cross-appeal.