Woman paralysed in thrill ride gone wrong

Lookout! Issue 26, September 2012

A passenger was thrown into the air during a high-speed boat ride and suffered permanent spinal injuries.
Seatbelts
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
The injured passenger missed the oral safety briefing and did not know to fasten her seatbelt.

The woman arrived to join the trip to a popular tourist landmark after the vessel had departed, but it returned to the booking office to collect her and two children accompanying her. The 11.5 metre catamaran, which carried 32 passengers, was advertised as travelling at speeds up to 100 km/hour.

The woman’s late arrival meant she missed the oral safety briefing. As a result, she did not know to fasten her seatbelt.

About half an hour after setting out, the vessel encountered waves estimated to be one-and-a-half metres high. The woman was lifted abruptly from her seat and as she came down, she struck the edge of her seat. She fractured four vertebrae and was knocked unconscious.

The trip was abandoned and the vessel returned to shore. The passenger was transferred by ambulance to hospital and then to a specialised spinal unit. She was paralysed from the waist down.

MNZ was not informed about the accident, as required, until several weeks afterwards when a friend of the injured woman alerted investigation staff.

When contacted, the vessel operator claimed to have notified MNZ but was unable to provide details or a copy of the letter he said he had sent.

The company was prosecuted on two charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA), for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person, and for failing to notify MNZ of the occurrence of serious harm as soon as possible after it became known.

The company was convicted and fined $30,000 and ordered to pay $90,000 to the victim in reparations.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • The operator’s failure to ensure all of the passengers were aware of safety requirements and to check their seatbelts were secured before departure greatly increased the risk to those passengers and resulted in one passenger becoming paralysed. It is a basic responsibility of commercial operators in the adventure tourism sector to avoid putting anyone at unnecessary risk. Injuries are not acceptable.
  • As a result of the accident, the passenger became a paraplegic. The judge noted that in many ways, her injuries were worse than a fatality and ordered the operator to pay significant reparations.
  • The operator failed to notify MNZ about the accident. It is a legal requirement for all boaties, not just commercial operators, to notify MNZ about any accidents, incidents and mishaps. MNZ regards failure to notify as a serious offence, which can incur a fine of up to $250,000.

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