Northern Ireland

Boat skipper fined after hairdresser suffers facial scarring

A boat skipper has been ordered to pay £55,000 in damages to a hairdresser left scarred after he smashed her face against a pole during a trip on the River Bann.

Sinead McGlinchey suffered the injuries on the boat skippered by Lee McCaughan.

Ms McGlinchey, 23, sued over the accident, which occurred in April 2008.

A judge said Mr McCaughan had indulged in unsafe circling or fast changes of direction, which resulted in Ms McGlinchey being flung from her seat.

Mr Justice Maguire said: "The presence of five or so girls in the boat was by invitation and the court finds it easy to accept that the driver of the boat, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, may have been tempted to show off to the girls by driving the boat in an exciting way."

The High Court was told Ms McGlinchey had gone to Newferry on the River Bann for a surprise barbeque party before she was due to travel to Tenerife for a holiday and potentially to work.

During the evening she boarded Mr McCaughan's Tige R22 along with four other girls for a river trip towards Portglenone.

On the return journey she claimed the driver started "doing circles" in the water, creating waves and crossing its own wake.

It was alleged in court that at one stage Mr McCaughan laughed and said to her: "Hold on."

According to her evidence the boat appeared to hit something, causing her to be flung across the boat.

She hit a pole or part of the structure of the boat, receiving facial injuries in the process.

Scarring

Ms McGlinchey remembered nothing further until she reached Antrim Area Hospital.

She suffered scarring to her forehead and the bridge of her nose.

Injuries to her neck and the septum of her nose were also inflicted.

The defendant told the court he had owned and used the boat for several years for wakeboarding.

He claimed that just before the accident he had steered the boat slowly around in a circle to pick up another wakeboarder who had fallen into the water.

The girls, he alleged, were "carrying on" and swapping seats despite his repeated warnings to them to stay seated.

However, Mr Justice Maguire described his evidence as unconvincing.

"His account that he never would have done spins or sharp turns in his boat at any time on the river seems to the court to be hard to believe," the judge said.

"As is clear from the photographs of the boat provided to the court, it is sleek and sporty.

" It is the sort of boat which one might expect a boat owner (at least sometimes) to drive fast and to experiment with.

"It is also the sort of boat an owner might drive in a manner which would impress passengers whom he was taking on a trip."

In a ruling delivered last October but only published now, the judge found for Ms McGlinchey on the balance of probabilities.

He declared that she had established liability against the defendant who, as driver of the boat, had a duty of care to his passengers.

"On the facts I find this duty to have been breached by the defendant in the manner in which the boat was driven on this occasion," he said.

Awarding £40,000 damages for the scarring, Mr Justice Maguire said: "The court has taken into account the plaintiff's evidence as to how it embarrasses her and how she keeps seeing it in the mirrors which confront her during her job as a hairdresser."

A further £15,000 was awarded for the neck injury and nasal fracture.