Companies appeal $16 million public liability claim

Date: Jun 24, 2015

Three companies involved in a helicopter accident nearly 10 years ago are now battling over who must pay the $16 million awarded to a man injured in the incident.

In April 2006, an energy provider enlisted the services of a helicopter company to survey power lines in a rural area of north-west Sydney. The helicopter firm provided the pilot and the aircraft.

While in flight, the helicopter’s rear rotor struck a catenary wire that crossed a small gully. A well-known telecommunications organisation owned the overhead line.

The pilot was able to land the helicopter safely, but the lack of rear rotor capabilities caused the aircraft to tilt over. Unfortunately, the main rotor struck the passenger cabin and hit the claimant in the head, causing massive injuries. The man was not wearing a safety helmet at the time.

The man settled for $10,000 a week compensation for medical care, lost wages and other costs after pursuing a public liability claim. The NSW Supreme Court ruled that the man’s employer was 90 per cent liable for the accident, while the helicopter company was deemed 10 per cent responsible.

However, the helicopter business has launched an appeal on several counts, including contesting the original decision that the telecommunications firm had no duty of care.

Untangling public liability claims

Fortunately for the victim of the accident, the appeal will not affect the amount of compensation he receives. The companies are instead trying to reduce the sum of money for which they are individually liable. The incident draws a number of parallels to a similar case heard in the NSW Court of Appeal earlier this month.

Appellate judges in the current case were asked to consider a number of questions, including:

  • Should the telecommunications company be held liable?
  • Was the helicopter firm negligent for not making the man wear a helmet?
  • Should the man’s employer have mapped the wire as a hazard?
  • Was negligence involved in choosing the flight route?

The judges overturned the original decision that the telecommunications firm should escape liability. They also found both the helicopter company and the man’s employer responsible for failing to instruct him to wear a helmet.

However, a failure to conduct a survey of potential hazards was not revealed as a contributor to the accident. This was largely because the catenary wire would not have been discovered even if a detailed investigation had taken place. On making their ruling, the appellate judges asked the companies to make new submissions as to the apportionment of damages.

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