NZSki chairlift ‘jump’ victim was close to amputation


An Auckland woman came close to having her left leg amputated below the knee after falling from a chairlift at Coronet Peak last year, Judge David Holderness heard in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.

James Eng, representing the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, read the victim impact statements of the woman and her partner – both of whom have name suppression – to the court during the sentencing hearing of NZSki.

The company on Monday admitted a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 of failing to ensure no hazard arose in a place of work, namely a fall from height, harmed people in the place with its express consent and who had paid to undertake an activity there on August 2, 2012. The court heard yesterday the woman’s statement said she and her partner were two days into their Queenstown holiday when their lives ”changed dramatically”.

They did not know how to disembark from the chairlift and alleged that after raising the bar past the dismount ramp, they were told by the top lift operator to “jump”.

The woman sustained a pilon fracture of her ankle, with breaks of the left tibia and fibula around the ankle joint.

She was transferred from Lakes District Hospital to Southland Hospital the following day and later to Auckland for surgery.

During two surgeries she suffered complications and was told a below-the-knee amputation would be considered within 72 hours of the second operation.

She spent a month in bed before being released from hospital in a wheelchair and in April began learning how to “balance and walk”.

Amputation was still a possibility, she said.

“I will never gain full use of my leg. I will always have ongoing pain and problems.

“Our future plans … are now shattered; financially, we are struggling.”

Her partner ruptured his rotator cuff and underwent shoulder surgery. He was still unable to work.

Both were critical of NZSki, a company which the man said only contacted him while he was in Invercargill last August – and had only assisted with travel, accommodation and medical expenses after he threatened to contact the media. NZSki counsel Glenn Jones disputed that claim, with phone records showing 23 calls to various people, including the health board, following the incident.

NZSki chairman Sir John Davies called the woman “at least” 20 times, organised orthopaedic advice from a leading Dunedin surgeon and arranged for an Auckland specialist to “overview” her condition.

He had paid more than $2000 to assist with travel, accommodation and medical expenses.

The contact and financial assistance ceased about January as the matter was under investigation and it would have been “inappropriate and open to misinterpretation” for the company to have any direct contact with the complainants, he said.

Immediately after the incident, NZSki suspended foot passengers from travelling on chairlifts at Coronet Peak and had still not reviewed that suspension.

That came at a cost of about $45,000 per annum, he said.

The company employed about 980 people across its three mountains, just over 400 of those at Coronet Peak, with all staff receiving full training.

The incident occurred as a result of “human error”, he said.

Before the incident, there had never been a reported injury to foot passengers on the chairlifts in the 40 years of their operation.

“This is a first offence by a corporate citizen that’s made a substantial contribution … to the economy over many years.

“This company, both on a corporate and human level, is of very good character.”

Mr Eng submitted an appropriate starting point for a fine would be between $40,000 and $50,000 and also suggested emotional harm and reparation payments, taking into account economic loss.

Mr Jones suggested mitigating factors could account for a one-third reduction from a $40,000 starting point, along with emotional harm and reparation payments.

Judge Holderness said he was unable to do justice to the detailed legal submissions by issuing a sentence yesterday.

A written decision would be released before Christmas. – Otago Daily Times