The tragic events of October 2016 have returned to news attention with the operators of Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld handed a $3.6 million fine by the Southport Magistrates Court recently.
As many would recall, Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi were killed in October 2016 when the popular family ride malfunctioned, throwing the occupants from the raft and trapping them underneath the mechanical conveyor belt.
There has been a number of legal repercussions in response to the tragedy over the last four years, which I thought it might be insightful to summarise.
Many would be aware of the coronial inquest into the tragedy and the findings of Queensland Coroner James McDougall have been of great assistance generally, but also with respect to informing some of the other legal proceedings.
He reported a litany of failings by Dreamworld’s owner, Ardent Leisure, including shoddy record keeping, ad hoc inspections of rides and poor maintenance. McDougall also wrote, “There is no evidence Dreamworld ever conducted a proper risk assessment in the thirty years of operation of the ride” and that the safety systems in place were “frighteningly unsophisticated”.
In response, Ardent Leisure chairperson Dr Gary Weiss and theme parks division chief executive John Osborne said there had been “considerable change” at Dreamworld, as had been acknowledged by the coroner’s report.
Queensland Work Health and Safety Investigation & Prosecution
The Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Prosecutor filed three charges against the company on July 21. This was following the handing down of the coroner’s findings into the tragedy five months earlier.
Ardent Leisure was sentenced in Southport Magistrate’s Court in late September 2020, after a hearing where families of the four victims told of the grief they continued to experience because of the shocking deaths. The three charges each carried a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.
The court heard it would have cost just $3,000 for safety measures to minimise the risk of pump failure, which ultimately caused the tragedy.
It was also revealed in court that there were several ways the raft could have been stopped, including an emergency stop button, of which there was none in place for the conveyor on the main panel.
The daughter of a victim, Ebony Turner, travelled from Canberra to deliver an emotional recount. She was 12 when she witnessed the deadly accident.
Claims for the victims and their families
As Dreamworld has been found to have failed in their duty of care towards the unfortunate victims of this tragedy in terms of the coronial inquest findings and having breached Workplace Health & Safety laws, their families have strong entitlements to compensation. These claims are in the form of what are known as a ‘dependency claim’ and/or a claim for any psychological injury suffered as a result of the deaths of their loved ones. Anyone who witnessed this tragic event and suffered a psychological injury would likely also have an entitlement to bring a claim for compensation.
As Dreamworld has been found to have failed in their duty of care towards the unfortunate victims of this tragedy in terms of the coronial inquest findings and having breached Workplace Health & Safety laws, their families have strong entitlements to compensation. These claims are in the form of what are known as a ‘dependency claim’ and/or a claim for any psychological injury suffered as a result of the deaths of their loved ones. Anyone who witnessed this tragic event and suffered a psychological injury would likely also have had an entitlement to bring a claim for compensation.
Claims of this nature allow the immediate family of victims to recover,
- any financial benefits that they would have received in the future from income received by their deceased parent/spouse; and
- the loss of domestic care and services that their deceased parent/spouse would have provided to them in the future
if they had not been tragically killed.
The families are also entitled to claim any funeral expenses and other expenses associated with relocating their loved ones back home.
In addition to the above claims, staff, witnesses to the event, and first responders who have suffered psychological injuries (i.e. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of witnessing or learning of the Dreamworld tragedy also likely had entitlements. When this happens, then those family members, staff and witnesses have a right to bring a compensation claim for the pain and suffering and other losses (particularly financial losses) they have suffered and will suffer in the future as a result of their psychological injury.
These claims often result in settlements or court awards totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
As expected, Ardent Leisure did indeed face a slew of compensation claims following the tragedy, including a class action by shareholders and individual claims by witnesses, staff, and emergency first responders.
In a statement issued after the fine imposed by the Southport Magistrate’s Court, Ardent Leisure chairman Gary Weiss and CEO John Osborne said “Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy without qualification or reservation,” “The majority of families, first responders and others impacted by the tragedy have received compensation.”
“The Ardent board has, and continues to, press for the expeditious resolution of the remaining claims noting that, in the case of compensation for minors, the court’s approval is required before compensation can be finalised.
The family of Ebony Turner, who is the teenage daughter of Kate Goodchild who travelled to the Southport Magistrates Court to give her recount in the WH&S prosecution, claim the company, is putting “dollars before safety” as her individual claim for compensation remains ongoing. Ebony was also on the raft, but was physically uninjured. Ardent Leisure has reportedly requested another trauma assessment in her claim.
Ebony’s claim is one of the unresolved matters, despite the company settling lawsuits with the rest of her family. Ebony (now 16 years of age) is currently still a minor, which means her claim will require an additional court process to approve any settlement and extend the time her claim takes to resolve in any event. However, the sticking point for her case according to her family is an ongoing disagreement about the level of trauma she suffered because of witnessing the deaths of her mother and uncles. Ardent Leisure’s lawyers insist their doctors should again assess her, but Ebony’s family say the constant evaluations and delay in settling the case is only prolonging her pain.
We certainly see the significant toll numerous medical reviews, and the weight of the legal process in general, has on clients on a daily basis in our practice and we sincerely hope to read of the resolution of Ebony’s claim in the near future.
No amount of legal redress, of course, can bring back loved ones. We can only hope companies and business have taken this tragedy as a stark warning and the often-simple safety precautions available to operators are taken and consistently reviewed to ensure we do not see and event like this occur again.
To request information about our available legal services, or to discuss your personal circumstances with one of our compensation lawyers, please do not hesitate to contact the Turner Freeman Lawyers Team on 13 43 63.