A WIDOWED Hail Creek coal miner who lost most of his life savings in the Storm Financial collapse has been awarded more than $850,000 damages for work injuries by the Queensland Supreme Court.
Paul Ashley Koven was a trainee dragline operator at the Rio Tinto-operated Bowen Basin mine when, on November 13, 2007, he injured his ankle on site. Despite returning to light duties a week later, the ankle continued to give the 46-year-old pain and after repeated infections following orthopaedic surgery in May, 2008, Mr Koven’s foot was encased in a “moon boot” until September.
His employment at the mine was terminated in April, 2009, with surgeons agreeing he had suffered a 5% whole person impairment with the possibility of future deterioration and having to have his ankle fused.
Now a school bus driver earning $518 a week for 23 hours work, a pay schedule supplied by Hail Creek’s human resources manager showed Mr Koven had a gross income of $119,955 or $1649 a week prior to the accident.
In assessing his prospective earnings, Justice Duncan McMeekin considered Mr Koven was a latecomer to the coal mining industry, joining the Goonyella Riverside mine in 2003 driving dozers and haul trucks.
Justice McMeekin also noted Mr Koven had lost $500,000 in the collapse of Storm Financial, which combined with his injury and the care of two teenage daughters after the death of his wife, left him with no savings to enable an early retirement.
Mr Koven, he added, was a man with “added reason to keep working”.
“An analysis of the ages and longevity of dragline operators employed at the Hail Creek mine demonstrates… that very few operators over 50 years of age stay any length of time and that the average age of dragline operators over the course of four years covered by the statistics was 40 years or below,” Justice McMeekin said.
“It needs hardly to be said but work in the mining industry is not for everyone. It involves working in difficult conditions and usually in remote areas. Long periods can be spent away from home.
“Plant operation in such conditions has its risks as evidenced by the occasional claim for damages or personal injury that comes before the courts.
“There are more reasons to limit time in this industry than in many others, particularly as one ages.
“It is not surprising the statistical evidence, limited though it is, points strongly to the likelihood that, on average, dragline operators do not generally stay on in the industry.”
Hail Creek operates two draglines. Mr Koven indicated to the court he wanted to work at the mine into his mid-60s.
“Plainly men do go on past 60 years of age in the industry,” Justice McMeekin said, “but they are relatively few. There are good reasons for (Mr Koven) to have continued in high paying work. However, quite apart from he becoming wearied with age, there is the prospect the present mining boom will not last.
“I think that I can take judicial notice of the fact that commodity prices are at record levels and hence so are employment levels in the industry.
“Much depends on overseas demand for Australia’s mineral wealth which is unpredictable.”
Mr Koven was awarded $864,686.58.
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