A seat belt may have saved the life of a 70-year-old Sawyers Bay farmer if he had been wearing it when he lost control of his utility vehicle on a farm track in March, a coroner's inquest in Dunedin heard yesterday.
Kenneth Robert (Ken) Laing died on March 9, 2012, aged 70.
On March 8, he was told by a doctor to rest until the cause of his ill health might be determined through blood tests. He ignored the advice and spent the afternoon cutting and pressing hay on a neighbouring farm.
About 3pm, his wife, Rose Laing, went to the property in search of him, and found his utility wedged in a gully off a gravel road on the farm.
Mr Laing was slumped forward in the driver's seat and was unresponsive, so Mrs Laing called an ambulance.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Mrs Laing said she could not recall whether Mr Laing was wearing his seat belt when she found him, but she thought it unlikely given he had been driving on a private farm where he had to get in and out of the vehicle to open and close gates.
If driving on a public road, Mr Laing wore his seat belt, she said.
He was a stoic, stubborn character who hardly ever got sick, and when he did he "ignored it" to continue working, she said.
Constable Lindsay Turner, of Port Chalmers, told the inquest Mr Laing's death was not suspicious.
"A postmortem examination found the cause of death was extensive severe traumatic brain injuries due to severe impact to the head," he said.
Mr Laing was barely conscious when removed from his utility and taken to Dunedin Hospital, where a scan revealed he had a large brain haemorrhage, for which he underwent an emergency operation. He was then transferred to the intensive care unit, Const Turner said.
Mr Laing did not recover and died in the intensive care unit about 2am on March 9.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment health and safety inspector Peter Verwey found there were no external factors which contributed to Mr Laing's accident and subsequent death.
Mr Laing's 2011 Nissan utility was in perfect working condition and weather at the time was fine, Mr Verwey said.
"Ken's ill health may have contributed to him losing control of the vehicle. It appears he did not take the advice of his GP and was not wearing a seat belt.
If he had been wearing a seat belt, he may not have suffered such severe injuries and may have survived the crash," he said.
Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar made an informal finding at the inquest's conclusion.
He said all drivers should wear seat belts, even when not legally required on private property, to keep themselves safe.
Mr Crerar's formal findings will be released in due course.