Chairlift incident brings fine

NZSki Ltd has been fined $27,000 and ordered to pay a total of $47,500 in emotional harm reparation to two people injured at Coronet Peak last August.

The company admitted a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, in the Queenstown District Court before Judge David Holderness, earlier this month.

The company, represented by Glenn Jones, admitted a charge of 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of failing to ensure all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee harmed any other person, was withdrawn earlier this month.

The charge related to an incident in which an Auckland couple - both of whom have name suppression - travelling as foot passengers fell, or jumped, more than a metre from the Coronet Express chairlift, landing heavily and suffering life-altering injuries, including fractures and cuts.

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

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

In his sentencing notes, released on Monday, Judge Holderness said 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''.

''Recently, a medical specialist has considered whether a below-the-knee amputation might be an option, because of ongoing problems caused by the nature and extent of the injuries sustained.''

Her partner's life had also been adversely affected and his lifestyle had ''suffered to a significant extent'', Judge Holderness said.

He was unable to find ''any proper basis'' for reparation to reflect a loss of earnings for the woman, who had not been in the workforce for ''quite some time'' before the incident, but considered a payment of $35,000 was an ''appropriate'' figure for reparation for emotional harm.

Judge Holderness further ordered NZSki to pay $12,500 to the male victim in emotional harm reparation.

In assessing the company's culpability in terms of a fine, he said NZSki's staff training and safety programme was ''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, and 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''.

In setting the fine, Judge Holderness took into account that the company pleaded guilty, had since stopped carrying foot passengers on the lifts and made a voluntary payment of $2337 to the victims in January to reimburse them for expenses incurred.

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

Yesterday, the woman told the Otago Daily Times she and her partner had, through their lawyer, ''readdressed'' the judge, with regard to claims made by NZSki that a company representative and its chairman, Sir John Davies, had contacted various people, including the health board and specialists, following the incident.

Judge Holderness said 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.''

He found an award of costs was appropriate and ordered NZSki to pay $1500 to the informant, along with $130 court costs.

The woman told the ODT NZSki had ''just left us to it. It's absolutely dreadful''.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson said 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,'' he said.