AN AMUSEMENT company has been fined $40,000 over a freak ferris wheel accident which sent three young passengers plummeting to the ground at the 2010 Byron Bay Blues Festival.
Three girls, aged between 15 and 16, were injured when the axles on the gondola they were riding in failed, causing them to fall 3m from the ferris wheel operated by Earthquake Promotions.
One of the girls was knocked unconscious and suffered severe spinal injuries.
In a statement tendered to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, the girl told of how she had feared she would become a quadriplegic.
She said the fall had caused her to miss school and had been the theme of re-occurring nightmares.
She also said she "will never go on a 'fun' ride again" and was grateful to be alive.
Earthquake Promotions admitted its failure to properly inspect the ferris wheel and carry out testing in accordance with Australian law.
Sentencing submissions were heard late last year and a decision handed down on Thursday.
The court heard that due to the nature of the fall, the injuries suffered by the three girls could have been "far more serious and potentially fatal".
The prosecution submitted there was no evidence of the company taking steps to apologise to the girls for the risk they were subjected to.
The maximum penalty open to court was estimated to be about $550,000.
It was noted that since the accident, the company had the ferris wheel inspected by an engineer and subsequently, "the sweep axle was redesigned to include a second mechanism of support should the axle fail again".
The ferris wheel was then rebuilt using new materials and the company log book modified to include a requirement for the axles to be inspected and tested every six months.
Justice Boland found the steps taken to improve safety weighed in the defendant's favour but as the company continued to operate in an industry where a structural failure of a ride could have serious consequences, specific deterrence needed to be taken into account to ensure "a sufficient level of diligence in the future".
Taking into account the company's low income and its capacity to pay out a large sum of money, Justice Boland imposed a fine of $40,000.
The company was also ordered to pay one third of the prosecution's costs.
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