Public liability doesn’t end with paying a WHS fine: The Swanston St Wall Collapse

Date: May 25, 2016


The latest development in the Swanston St Wall Collapse has seen the families of the people killed in the accident withdraw their compensation claim against a construction company accused of being responsible for the collapse. The families this month announced they have instructed their compensation lawyers to settle with the company out of court.

Tragic accident that killed passersby

The deadly incident occurred on March 28 2013 when student Alexander Jones, 19, his sister Bridget, 18, and Marie-Faith Fiawoo of France were crushed under a brick wall which collapsed onto Swanston Street in central Melbourne. The wall collapsed during freak winds of up to 102kmh which battered inner Melbourne that week.
The wall was located on the edge of the former Carlton and United Breweries site where the company Grocon was undertaking a construction project. The wall was later found to be partly the responsibility of Aussie Signs Ltd as well as Grocon.

Compensation demanded initially

Six family members had applied for compensation over the deaths of the three but Grocon was reported as likely to contest the families’ claims. Lawyers for both families withdrew their applications for compensation in May 2016. Settlement between Grocon and the families of the dead is expected to be worked out this year without further guilt being admitted by the building company.

Judge warned against compensation claim

According to The Age, Judge Charlie Rozencwajg of the Melbourne Magistrates Court told the parties he didn’t want arguments over evidence in his court.

“If there is any way this matter could achieve resolution to avoid litigation, that would be of a great benefit to everyone,” he said.

The settlement means Grocon’s culpability will now not be determined on the “balance of probabilities” as opposed to the higher bar of beyond reasonable doubt that would apply in a criminal trial.

Documents provided to the court when the compensation claim was lodged said the victims’ families were suffering grief, trauma and distress “as a direct result” of the building company’s offending. The Sentencing Act allows a court to award damages to pay for compensation for pain and suffering, counselling and other medical expenses in any state.

Fines are very different from damages

Grocon had already been convicted and fined $250,000 under workplace safety laws in 2014, and Aussie Signs Ltd received the same fine. In New South Wales, Workplace Health and Safety fines range as high as $3m for corporations guilty of a Category 1 offence.
Part of the reason the families dropped their claim for public liability damages was that WorkSafe prosecutors running 2014’s criminal case against Grocon couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that the company’s breaches made the wall fall.

Gerard Malouf and Partners doesn’t just have a 98% success rate in winning claims, we’re also experienced in amicably settling disputes and grievances out of court. It’s important to bring your case to us so we can make clear where government punishment of harmful companies ends and where your compensation claim begins.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts or email your enquiry.