Sentence reserved in NZSki case

A Queenstown ski company being prosecuted after two elderly chairlift passengers were seriously injured when they fell or jumped disembarking from a Coronet Peak lift has had its sentencing adjourned.

NZSki was to be sentenced in Queenstown District Court today for a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. But Judge David Holderness reserved sentencing following almost four hours of legal submissions and the company will now be sentenced before Christmas.

Yesterday the Queenstown-based company admitted a charge of failing to ensure no workplace hazard arose, namely a fall from height. The charge stemmed from an incident on August 2 last year.

Counsel Glenn Jones said NZSki's admission was based on the practicable step which was not taken when an Auckland couple, travelling as foot passengers to go sight-seeing, fell, or jumped, more than a metre from the Coronet Express chairlift, landing heavily and suffering lift-altering injuries, including cuts and broken bones.

"The basis on which the company has plead guilty . . . was [Tara] Wade's [the upper lift operator] failure to slow or stop the lift, Mr Jones said.

"This was a simple human error on one occasion.

"It wasn't a systemic failure, it wasn't cutting corners, it was a one-off instance of human error by an employee."

Immediately following the incident NZSki had suspended foot passenger operations - which came at a financial loss of about $45,000 per annum - and they had not been reinstated.

Despite allegations to the contrary, the company had also supported the couple, with phone calls and medical arrangements.

James Eng, on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment suggested a starting point fine of between $40,000 and $50,000 was appropriate, along with additional sums for emotional harm and reparation for each victim, also taking into account the economic loss suffered through their inability to work.