The High Court has ruled that a Garda must pay €65,000 compensation to a bouncer whom he assaulted while off-duty on a stag night in Westport.
Domonikos Kalman Racz worked as a bouncer in the Castlecourt Hotel, Westport. He brought proceedings against the off duty garda (Thomas Higgins) for personal injuries arising from an altercation at the hotel on 12 November 2011.
In turn, the off duty Garda, who was stationed in Athlone, brought separate proceedings for assault against the Hotel arising out of the same incident.
Higgins had consumed a number of drinks before he ended up in Mojo nightclub, a nightclub operated within the hotel. He had a few more drinks and began to act erratically on the dance floor, behaving in an aggressive manner towards other patrons. He came to the attention of Racz, who was one of four licensed and experienced security staff on duty that night.
Racz gave evidence that he approached Higgins at least four times and Higgins’ behaviour became increasingly erratic, even jumping on the bar counter. Racz called his superior, Mr. Rowley, head of security at the hotel. Rowley asked Higgins to calm down and signalled to follow him so that they could talk away from the loud music. Higgins refused.
Racz and Rowley then took Higgins by both arms and attempted to bring him downstairs to the lobby of the hotel. Higgins refused and punched and kicked Rowley in the groin. He also punched Racz in the face and arm. Racz managed to bring Higgins to the ground and subdue him. The Gardai were called.
Higgins managed to break free and made his way to the lobby area shouting “you don’t know who I am”, a reference to the fact that he was a member of An Garda Síochána. When the Gardai arrived Higgins attempted to assault the female Garda, who placed him in handcuffs and brought him to the station.
Higgins claimed that he could not remember what had happened. He maintained he was an innocent party who was suddenly grabbed by security staff and viciously assaulted. He claimed that he received blows to the head and face and that he felt a knuckleduster or ring strike his cheek.
Costello J concluded that the evidence of Racz and Rowley was completely corroborated by CCTV. He did not accept any of Higgins’ evidence.
The Judge found it “particularly remarkable” that a member of An Garda Síochána was unable to identify himself on the CCTV footage even though everyone else who viewed the footage was able to identify Higgins and his companions.
Costello J was satisfied that Higgins was the aggressor and had assaulted Racz. He awarded Racz €65,000 for pain and suffering. Judge Costello also noted that Racz had experienced stress and anxiety following his realisation that Higgins was a Garda, which ultimately led to Racz and his family leaving the Westport area.
In relation to Higgins’ counter proceedings, Costello J did not accept that unreasonable force had been employed in removing him from the nightclub. If he had cooperated, he would have faced no difficulty whatsoever.
It was further accepted that the security systems and procedures in place on the night were fair and reasonable, that the staff had observed the situation over a long period and had reacted proportionally to the volatile situation they were faced with. Higgins’ case against the Hotel was dismissed.
This judgment is a helpful reminder of the benefit of having good CCTV and robust systems and procedures in place in establishments that deal with members of the public.
A copy of the decision can be found here.
Authors: Mark Kelly and Aideen Farrelly