A High Court judge has reserved his decision on appeals by Icepak Coolstores and Mobile Refrigeration Specialists over their fines for breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act following the fatal April 2008 fire at Tamahere.
Icepak Coolstores and Mobile Refrigeration Specialists (MRS) were fined $37,200 and $56,200 respectively when sentenced in the Hamilton District Court on December 15 last year.
In the High Court at Hamilton yesterday, the companies argued that their fines were “excessive”, reported the Waikato Times.
In December, Judge Robert Spear also fined Icepak Coolstores managing director Wayne Grattan $30,000 and ordered the company pay $95,000 reparation to the injured firefighters and their families.
MRS was ordered to pay $175,000 reparation to the victims.
The 2008 coolstore explosion at Tamahere killed firefighter Derek Lovell and seriously injured seven of his colleagues.
Yesterday, at the High Court in Hamilton, Icepak Coolstores’ counsel, Simon Menzies, told Justice Heath the sentencing judge had failed to consider his client’s “financial capacity” when imposing the $37,200 fine.
A financial declaration showed Icepak Coolstores was effectively insolvent. Icepak Coolstores was a stand-alone entity but had received funds in the past from parent company Icepak Group Ltd, the paper reported.
Neither Icepak Coolstores nor MRS disputes the reparation sum.
Mr Menzies submitted Judge Spear was obliged, under the Sentencing Act, to take into consideration the defendant’s financial circumstances, but failed to do so.
Icepak Coolstores’ three directors – Grattan, Iain Slight and Jan Van Eden – had earlier pledged $100,000 to the courts, with $95,000 set aside for reparation. Mr Menzies invited the courts to impose a $5000 fine.
In analysing Judge Spear’s judgment, Justice Heath said it was clear he understood the defendants’ financial positions.
Judge Spear may have believed the fines imposed were necessary for denunciation and deterrence, and had reasoned it was up to the companies’ shareholders to pay the fines “or let the companies go bust”, Justice Heath said.
MRS counsel Shane Elliott submitted his client was effectively a one-man business operated by director Warren Cook, 74. The company was able to pay reparation because of its insurance cover but any fine would force it to fold.
Mr Elliott submitted Judge Spear was under time constraints when he prepared his oral judgment and had “simply overlooked” his client’s dire financial situation when imposing the “excessive” fine.
In response, Crown counsel Nick Chisnall said Judge Spear’s judgment clearly addressed the companies’ financial positions.
MRS’ offending was serious and ultimately cost the life of Mr Lovell. The fines reflected the seriousness of the defendants’ offending and sent a message to other businesses in refrigeration.
Icepak Coolstores earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching health and safety employment regulations. Grattan pleaded guilty to one such charge over the explosion. Mobile Refrigeration Specialists pleaded guilty to two breaches health and safety employment regulations.
Justice Heath yesterday reserved his decision.