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No Win - No Charge

Coronial Inquest delivers charges over the 2016 theme park tragedy

    Rapid River Ride Dreamworld
    22 July 2020

    Yesterday saw the welcome news that Dreamworld's parent company Ardent Leisure has been charged over the 2016 theme park tragedy that killed four people when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned at the theme park in Coomera. 

    As a local Injury lawyer who practices in the same suburb where Dreamworld is located, I was deeply shocked and saddened when the news came through in October 2016 that four people had died when the raft on the Thunder River Rapids ride collided with an empty raft and flipped.

    This was a fun ride that many local residents and Gold Coast holidaymakers had enjoyed over the years and this tragic accident came as a stark reminder as to how fun can turn to tragedy and that safety in our theme parks has to be of paramount importance. 

    I subsequently followed closely the coronial inquest and yesterday marked the end of a sorry chapter for Dreamworld with the laying of these charges.

    Three charges had been filed against the company in the Brisbane Magistrates Court under the Work Health and Safety Act.

    The charges relate to an alleged failure to comply with a health and safety duty that exposes an individual to a risk of death or serious injury.

    The maximum penalty for each breach is $1.5 million, or $4.5 million in total.

    A coronial inquest into the four deaths made findings of a series of failures at the park, including safety and maintenance systems that the coroner described as "rudimentary at best" and "frighteningly unsophisticated".

    The inquest heard a water pump feeding the ride had broken down, causing water levels to suddenly drop.

    Delivering his findings in February, coroner James McDougall said there had been a "systemic failure by Dreamworld in relation to all aspects of safety"

    At the time, Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace said an experienced independent prosecutor would examine the coroner's findings and material to determine what — if any — breaches had occurred.

    According to Work Health and Safety, it is alleged Ardent Leisure had failed to ensure "so far as reasonably practicable" the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures, and safe systems of work.

    It has been further alleged the company failed to ensure the "provision of information, training, instruction or supervision that was necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business".

    After the announcement that charges would be laid, Dreamworld issued an announcement saying 

    "Dreamworld has taken substantive and proactive steps to improve safety across the entire park and continues to enhance existing systems and practices, as well as adopt new ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government's new major amusement park safety regulations.

    "The new leadership team is committed to continuing to improve and enhance safety systems and practices with the aim of becoming a global industry leader in theme park safety and operations."

    Let’s hope Dreamworld back up their words with real actions and ensure that something like this can never happen again.

    The dreamworld ride tragedy has had a significant impact on the local community with families deserting the theme park and jobs at the park being lost due to Ardent Leisure’s failure to operate and maintain a safe theme park

    The charges against Ardent Leisure will be mentioned in the Southport Magistrates Court on July 29.

    Stuart Macleod is a Serious Injury Lawyer at Zaparas Lawyers based in Upper Coomera on the Gold Coast.