Victims of January’s Sea World helicopter crash are facing two major obstacles to receiving compensation, a leading accident and aviation lawyer has warned.
Peter Carter, director of Carter Capner Law and former national president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, has called for significant reforms to Queensland and Commonwealth law in the wake of the tragedy, which claimed four lives and caused three serious injuries.
According to Carter, “good Samaritans” who helped rescue victims and retrieve bodies from the crash may not be eligible to be compensated for psychological damage they suffered, as they cannot claim for mental health under the operator’s compulsory insurance policy.
“You don’t know how these incidents will affect you, and I’ve dealt with hundreds of clients over the years who have suffered tremendously and had long-term medical bills and loss of income,” said Carter, who has called on the Commonwealth to amend the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act and mandate insurance against injury to mental health.
Additionally, Carter says that Queensland’s Civil Liability Act from 2002 would allow insurers to use an “unconscionable” loophole to escape liability even to seriously injured victims on board by arguing – as has successfully been done at least twice in NSW – that joy flights in light aircraft such as helicopters are a “dangerous recreational activity”.
“There have been no decided cases in Queensland yet, but insurers are known to use whatever loophole they can to weasel their way out of paying, and this law gives them that opportunity.
“Most Queenslanders who travel in light aircraft around our far-flung state would be surprised to hear that they are disqualified from compensation for any injuries they might, unfortunately, sustain as a result of the negligence of an airport operator, a fuel supplier, an aircraft maintenance organisation, another aircraft, an air traffic controller or a pilot,” he said.
The crash, which occurred at Main Beach near Surfers Paradise on January 2, saw two Sea World Eurocopter EC130s collide mid-air, killing the pilot and three passengers on board the helicopter taking off, with three more sustaining serious injuries. All six passengers and the pilot of the landing helicopter survived.
As seen in a preliminary report compiled by the ATSB this week, the pilot of the landing helicopter said he “did not see” the other aircraft taking off, nor did he recall hearing a radio signal saying it was due to depart.
However, ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell has stressed that this does not necessarily mean a call was not made.