Queenstown ski firm pinged $74,000 after accident

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A Queenstown ski firm must pay out more than $74,000 after an accident at one of its skifields.

NZSki Ltd admitted workplace failings after an Auckland couple were injured jumping or falling from a Coronet Peak chairlift last August.

The firm – which owns both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables skifields in the resort – was fined $27,000 by a judge yesterday.

It was also ordered to pay a total of $47,500 in emotional harm reparation to the couple.

The Aucklanders – who both have name suppression – were foot passengers on Coronet Express chairlift.

They fell or jumped more than a metre after their seat passed the bull-ring, landing heavily.

The woman sustained a pilon fracture of her ankle with breaks of the left tibia and fibula around the ankle joint, requiring surgery and on-going treatment.

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

In his sentencing notes, released on Monday, Judge David Holderness says the victim impact statements from the couple made “sad reading”.

The woman’s injuries had been “life-changing” and her recovery had been “fraught with difficulties”.

Judge Holderness says: “Recently, a medical specialist has considered whether a below-the-knee amputation might be an option, because of on-going problems caused by the nature and extent of the injuries sustained.”

A total of $35,000 was an appropriate figure for reparation for emotional harm to the woman, and $12,500 to his partner, the judge concluded.

In victim impact statements, both victims were critical of NZSki’s response and attitude to their plight following the incident.

The woman yesterday (Tuesday) told Otago Daily Times, she and her partner had “readdressed” the judge through their lawyer.

They were unhappy with the firm’s claims chairman Sir John Davies had contacted various people, including the health board and specialists, following the incident.

They “just left us to it. It’s absolutely dreadful”, the woman says.

Judge Holderness says while there was a “marked dispute” as to the degree of concern and remorse communicated by the company to the victims following the incident, he was satisfied contact “was at least attempted” on a number of occasions.

“Furthermore, I accept that there were constraints on the propriety of the company making contact once the investigation into the incident was under way.”

NZSki made a voluntary payment of $2337 to the victims in January to reimburse them for expenses incurred.

Assessing the company’s culpability for a fine, Judge Holderness says its staff training and safety programme is “comprehensive and generally well implemented”.

“I am satisfied that the safety programme and staff training has resulted in the company having a good safety record … the company has not previously been convicted of any offence against the Act.”

The upper chairlift operator on the day, Tara Wade, had been informed of the couple’s pending arrival, but failed to slow or stop the chairlift.

Wade did not instruct them to lift the bar as their chair approached the dismount platform or “make any attempt to assist them to get off the chair”.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says in a statement the company “sincerely” regretted the injuries suffered by the couple and accepted legal responsibility for the inaction of its employee, who failed to slow or stop the chairlift.

“As this matter has now gone through a full court process, NZSki Ltd will have no further comment to make,” Anderson says.

The company admitted a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 – failing to ensure no workplace hazard arose, namely a fall from height, on August 2, 2012.

A second charge, of failing to ensure all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee harmed any other person, was withdrawn earlier this month.

NZSki has since stopped taking foot passengers on its chairlifts.

Otago Daily Times