Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Company must pay $120K over crippling woman

A tourism operation has been ordered to pay a total of $120,000 after a woman was left in a wheelchair after a rough trip on a boat. Photo / Thinkstock
A tourism operation has been ordered to pay a total of $120,000 after a woman was left in a wheelchair after a rough trip on a boat. Photo / Thinkstock

A tourism operator has been ordered to pay $90,000 to a woman left a paraplegic after a rough trip on a pleasure boat in the Bay of Islands.

Seafort Holdings Ltd was also ordered to pay fines of $30,000 over two charges connected to the incident.

The company was one of two handed big fines today in Auckland District Court for accidents in which people were hurt during rides in recreational vessels.

Catherine Cooke, 53, was supported by her husband John as she tearfully told the courtroom today how the events of December 21, 2010 had dramatically changed her life and left her wondering "if it's worth being here at all".

She, her granddaughter and her granddaughter's friend were late to join the boat trip in Paihia on motorised catamaran Mack Attack, owned by Seafort Holdings Ltd.

In her victim impact statement, Mrs Cooke said the crew did not provide a safety briefing or check whether passengers' seatbelts were fastened.

Mrs Cooke did not wear her seatbelt during the trip, said her lawyer.

About 25 minutes into the high-speed ride she was thrown from her seat when the boat hit a big wave, and she then hit the edge of her seat and the deck.

"I could feel my legs had no mobility and then I felt the pain."

Her back was fractured in the incident, which required her to undergo surgery to have two metal rods inserted into her spine. She was paralysed from the waist down as a result and wheelchair-bound.

The incident had robbed her of her active lifestyle, future dreams and impacted many of those close to her, Mrs Cooke told the court.

"I can't begin to explain how the accident has affected my husband, family and friends. I haven't asked them because I can see such sadness in their eyes."

She said she had not received an apology nor even a refund from the company since the incident.

Richard John Prentice of Seafort Holdings had pleaded guilty two charges two charges of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person and failing to notify the director of Maritime New Zealand of the occurrence of serious harm as soon as possible after the occurrence became known.

In court, his lawyer said the company accepted a "failure to check Mrs Cooke's seatbelt was fastened" and that a safety briefing was not carried out in this case.

Judge Phil Gittos took the guilty plea into account but said the failure of the company to check seatbelts were worn or to carry out a safety briefing in Mrs Cooke's case had a "catastrophic outcome".

Earlier today InterCity Group was ordered to pay $270,000 over two incidents on jetboat Excitor III last year, which left three women with serious back injuries.

Judge Gittos ordered the company pay Amanda Lee and Jan Phillips $45,000 and Petulia Patey - whose injuries were the most severe - $60,000.

He also ordered it to pay fines of $50,000 for the first incident and $70,000 for the second.

MNZ, which laid the charges, said afterwards that the sentences were serious reminder to all operators of high-speed vessels that they must continually be evaluating and adapting their safety systems.

An extensive amount of ongoing work by MNZ had gone into working with operators of high speed vessels to ensure safety, said MNZ maritime investigator Bruce McLaren.

- APNZ

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