Road protester loses damages claim for injuries

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A road protester who broke his back and suffered severe head injuries when he fell 50ft from a tree on a bypass construction site yesterday lost his High Court action for damages.

A road protester who broke his back and suffered severe head injuries when he fell 50ft from a tree on a bypass construction site yesterday lost his High Court action for damages.

A judge dismissed the case brought by Richard Ellis, 48, who claimed that the site contractors failed to take reasonable care for his safety. Deputy High Court Judge James Goudie ruled he had "voluntarily exposed" himself to the risk and could not blame others.

Mr Ellis was among campaigners who, in July 1994, built a network of tree houses, walkways and hammocks in beech woodland due to be cut down for a bypass at Solsbury Hill, near Bath.

As tree surgeons attempted to cut away lower branches and prepare trees for felling, Mr Ellis, of Acle, Norfolk, fell from his tree-top perch, suffering serious injuries.

Mr Ellis claimed six-figure damages from the main contractors on the site, Amey Construction Ltd, and the tree surgery firm, AJ Engley, of Catchpot Nursery, Old Sodbury, Bristol.

But Judge Goudie said neither of the defendants could be held liable for the risk Mr Ellis had deliberately exposed himself to. "Mr Ellis's fall was not directly or indirectly attributable to any wrongdoing on their part," he said. "In particular, it was not caused by the actions of those operating the hoist and the chainsaw."

The judge added: "It is a grave misfortune that he was not properly secured as he moved among the trees. He cannot, however, blame anyone else for that."

Mr Ellis, who had received legal aid, appeared in court during the trial leaning heavily on two walking sticks. His head injuries have resulted in amnesia and memory impairment.

The court heard that tension between protesters and the contractors had risen inexorably over the two days and nights before the accident and, on the day before Mr Ellis's fall, tree surgeons had moved in with cherry-picker cranes and chainsaws to thin out branches.

However, Judge Goudie ruled that the use of cherry pickers was "entirely appropriate" and he "decisively rejected" the serious allegations against the chainsaw operator, Matthew Fisher, 17, who Mr Ellis claimed had waved a branch at him and obstructed him with a running chainsaw.

The judge said Mr Fisher "behaved responsibly and maturely throughout" as he rejected claims that there had been "deliberate harassment" of protesters by workmen on the site and that this had contributed to Mr Ellis's fall.

The judge said that had he found negligence on the part of either defendant he would in any event have ruled Mr Ellis two-thirds to blame for his own misfortune.

The judge concluded: "Mr Ellis was actively involved in obstruction of the branch-cutting operations when he fell. I do not regard any conduct of either defendant as being disproportionate."

Comments