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An Auckland cartage company could be fined a maximum of $250,000 for failing to ensure the safety of an employee but levels of culpability and reparations need to be determined first.
Industry standards and the wisdom of stacking heavy round objects on flat surfaces were debated in a call-over hearing in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.
Tom Ryan Cartage Ltd answered a Department of Labour charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee, Bruce Jack Alexander Sparks.
Mr Sparks was a driver taking large, high-density polyethylene pipes from Christchurch to Wanaka for use in construction of Wanaka's Project Pure sewage treatment plant.
Two interlinked issues - culpability and reparation - were debated by Tom Ryan Cartage Ltd counsel Garth Galloway, who said that both should be at the lower end of the scale.
He said it was difficult to calculate reparations owed.
But Judge Kevin Phillips indicated both would be at the higher end of the scale.
Mr Sparks was flown to the Dunedin Hospital on February 22 last year after he was crushed under a large polyethylene pipe he was unloading from a truck.
Judge Phillips said the round pipes had been stacked on the flat dunnage of a truck without bracing or cradle, other than each layer being strapped into place.
Mr Galloway said "a dunnage with a form on it . . . is not common in the industry" and the Department of Labour had only cited one similar instance where forms were used.
"If it was widespread, then they would have a lot of examples," Mr Galloway said.
Judge Phillips said he "felt culpability fell into the top end of the middle band".
The charge carried a maximum penalty of $250,000, but no fine could be calculated until reparation levels were determined, the judge said.
Department of Labour counsel Mike Hargreaves said Mr Sparks might never be fit to work again.
Judge Phillips said reparation was likely to include remunerating Mr Sparks to the full level of his pre-accident wage.
ACC paid 80% but the company might have to pay the additional 20% for the rest of his potential working life.
"He is 54, so conceivably he would have worked for another 10 years," the judge said.
"That impacts on the level of the fine."
Mr Galloway said there were difficulties in assessing the correct level of reparations but Judge Phillips said he would order a report.
There will be a telephone conference about reparations between the lawyers and Judge Phillips in two weeks' time and the next hearing date and place confirmed then.
"At the end of the day, we are looking at a victim and trying to look at what level he can get his life back," the judge said.