$480,000 fine for OPC

March 21st, 2009 at 8:01 am by David Farrar

My first reaction upon hearing that the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre had been fined $480,000 for its role in the death of seven students and staff from Elim College was that it was over the top.

My reasoning was that while big fines make sense if it was a commercial workplace (as would provide incentive to make things safer), a $480,000 fine on a not for profit centre could actually rob them of the money they need to make things safer.

But then upon reading the story, I found in fact they have only been fined $40,000 and the other $440,000 is reparations to the families of the deceased (and a small amont to the survivors). That changes the nature of it, and makes it seem far more reasonable. Not that $60,000 is any compensation for losing a family member, but its a lot more than you would probably get if they were murdured!

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27 Responses to “$480,000 fine for OPC”

  1. peterwn (3,148 comments) says:

    It may be that the reparations is covered by insurance held by the centre. It may also be that non profit organisations may also structure their affairs so property and investments are held by a different entity from operations. Donors to such organisations do not intend their donations to end up in the Consolidated Fund.

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  2. andrei (2,499 comments) says:

    Is life risk free?

    Will any amount of money bring back the dead?

    It all seems a bit skewy if you ask me.

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  3. reid (15,918 comments) says:

    Odd juxtaposition isn’t it that companies guilty of unintentional industrial incidents causing death or injury get fined whereas in most cases individuals who do the same thing with malice aforethought don’t.

    Collection difficulties aside, why isn’t someone like Kauriki and his fellow offenders looking at a never-written off debt of say $500,000 which will need to be paid off by him no matter what, even if it means garnishing his wages for the rest of his life?

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  4. wreck1080 (3,726 comments) says:

    Why was noone held criminally liable? Seems that justice was not done.

    eg, in the bridge swinging death, they charged someone.

    Or, the more people you kill, the lesser chance of an individual being charged with a criminal offence?

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  5. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    reid, I think that beyond the matter of equity it comes down to this: OPC is subject to the authority of the state as invited by this accident, and Kauriki is subject to the authority of the state as invited by his own deliberate behaviour.

    spot the common denominator.

    While it may appear unobservably slow, it is still pan-generational creeping totalitarianism.

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  6. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Not that $60,000 is any compensation for losing a family member,”

    Right, so what is??

    Blood money.

    Y’know what? If I was a relative, I wouldn’t take it.

    This is crazy and is a farce that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

    Who the hell are the idiots in the judiciary and the bureaucracy behind this??

    Track them down and shift them to junior positions.

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  7. democracymum (660 comments) says:

    I really wonder at the wisdom of some of these types of judgments.

    My son attended OPC a few months before this tragedy as part of a school trip.
    The centre appeared to be incredibly well run, with safety being an absolute priority.

    I might add that this is not always true of school trips, and I certainly had a lot more confidence
    in OPC’s ability to look after my son, than many other organisations.

    I agree that in this instance their information regarding the weather was totally insufficient.

    But as a charitable organisation – will this penalty mean that they are in a better or worse position to
    accommodate the safety needs of their staff and students in the future?

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  8. trout (900 comments) says:

    It surprises me how people are prepared to suspend judgement just because an organization is considered ‘worthy’. These kids were literally sent to their death; they trusted the judgement of people in charge and had no opportunity to decide for themselves whether they were safe. The fine is a rap over the knuckles; there have been no resignations at the top of OPC that I know of nor have there been more serious charges. It is ‘Cave Creek’ all over again; kids get killed because of management incompetence but nobody is brought to book because they are ‘nice people with good intentions’.

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  9. jarbury (464 comments) says:

    There was a good interview with the Principal of Elim College on National Radio last night and he thought that an OK decision had been reached. Clearly OPC was generally run well and nobody wanted to see it shut down (not even the families in general). Personally I don’t see why all the money went to reparations, why should the state actually get $40,000?

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  10. racer (258 comments) says:

    I dont think they should have been punished in any way, As that guy was saying the other day, kids here are too wrapped up in cotton wool, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet you know.

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  11. big bruv (13,227 comments) says:

    This is an atrocious decision.

    I wonder how many of these “deeply religious” people will resist this blood money or will the be able to put aside their “concerns” and bank the money as quickly as they can.

    There is danger in what they were doing, yes the OPC was negligent but no amount of money is going to bring these kids back.

    The whole report is so typical of the way we have become as a nation, they had to find something to blame so they blame the “company”, once again there is no personal responsibility or blame apportioned to any one individual.

    Fucking pathetic.

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  12. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    I think trout is correct. Nobody seems to have been held accountable for the errors.

    Surely someone should have been fired for mistakes that led to deaths. Failing to make the simple telephone call that could have cleared up the confusion on the approaching thunderstorms.

    Reparations just seems to be the weak wishy washy way out, and in my humble opinion, unprincipled as well. No money can make up for the deaths, and to me, it is an insult to offer it.

    “Well, we’re really sorry your child died due to our incompetence, here’s fifty grand to make you feel better.”

    Just disgraceful.

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  13. Chuck Bird (4,668 comments) says:

    I cannot see the point of penalising the Centre. What is to be gained from forcing the Centre to close? It should stay open but under new management.

    It was an individual or individuals who were grossly negligent and they should be prosecuted. One should accept that outdoor activities particularly adventure sports carries some risk. However, those organising these events must take all reasonable steps to minimise the risk.

    I have had enough alpine experience to know how quickly the weather can change at altitude. I was on top of Ruapehu over looking the Crater Lake a few weeks ago. The temperature and visibility can change in five minutes. I was on top Taranaki and there was not a cloud in the sky. Less than 30 minutes later the visibility was down to between 10 and 20 metres. The temperature had dropped and the wind was up. Over the years over 60 people have died on Taranaki – many if not most because of the very changeable weather.

    I am not a mountaineer but I have had enough experience at altitude to know how changeable the weather can be. I know one can say it is easy to be wise in hindsight. However, those in charge of the Centre should have had available the best and latest weather forecast just prior to the group setting off down the canyon.

    I can sympathise with Grant Davidson but he should be held accountable for not ensuring correct procedures regarding weather forecasts were in place.

    When one compares this with the case of the Berryman’s where the bridge the army built collapsed one wonders why he has not been charged.

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  14. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    The OPC were acting in loco parentis (or whatever the proper term is). My question is whether they took all the due care that a parent would have done. Sounds like they had a weather forecast, but not the absolute latest. Well, plenty of people are guilty of that.

    If a parent takes their kids down a canyon, they had a forecast but not the latest, a horrible tragedy happens and a child dies. Do we sue them?

    My view is that parents and the school need to satisfy themselves that the company is reputable and doing well. But nothing can prevent all deaths, and reparations aren’t appropriate. Anyone engaging in pursuits like this is taking their lives into their hands, as does anyone who gets in their car in the morning. We don’t stop getting in our cars, we shouldn’t stop getting our kids decent outdoor experiences.

    I’m not absolving OPC of blame or responsibility. The father whose kid dies will never forgive himself, I suspect those involved here likewise. But blame is different from punishment. What I want to see are changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Not to make sure noone ever dies again, but to make sure that the management failures that led to this incident don’t happen again.

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  15. Chuck Bird (4,668 comments) says:

    “If a parent takes their kids down a canyon, they had a forecast but not the latest, a horrible tragedy happens and a child dies. Do we sue them?”

    Do you recall the prosecution where the guy left bung ont of the boat he just purchased and his children drowned? He was charged.

    I am not sure what the law actually is but if I pay someone to take me or my child up a mountain, white water rafting or some other adventure activity I expect them to be more skilled and knowledgeable than someone offering to do so for free. It should make no difference whether a charitable trust is charging the fee or a private company like Shotover Jet.

    Is my expectation unreasonable?

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  16. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    Chuck, if you expect there to never be an accident in the outdoors, then you are dreaming. I think the OPC folks are more skilled than the average joe, but that doesn’t mean no mistakes. I’m not excusing it – they should do better. But I don’t think a fine is appropriate unless there is negligence, and then I think individuals should be those fined unless there is evidence that the company was systematically negligent.

    My worry is that we set the bar at a level where if anyone has an accident in the outdoors, then those guiding/helping are at fault. There will always be accidents, so if this is our bar then we need to just close those companies down. If the evidence was that OPC were genuinely negligent, v’s they could have done more (as is always the case when an accident happens), then I agree the fine makes sense. I didn’t read all the detail, but it seems to hinge on the weather report, and the reality is that the weather changes all the time in the outdoors, I presume they were prepared for that anyway.

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  17. Chuck Bird (4,668 comments) says:

    Paul, I certainly do not expect there never be an accident in the outdoors or an adventure sport. I have taken part in many of them including white water rafting on the Wairoa River (Grade 5), black water rafting, skydiving, and started to learn to fly a micro light.

    I have rafted the Wairoa River four times. There are two waterfalls about 4 metres high. There is a danger on the first waterfall if the raft capsizes. That is if you end under the falls you will not float out even with a wet suit and a life jacket as the water is too aerated. The guide tells you that there is a thick rope under the falls and if you get pulled under water do not panic but find rope and pull your way to the side of the falls. There have been a few deaths on the river over the years but thousands have rafted it. I do not know if any of the fatalities were due too negligence on the part of an operator. If they were negligent they should be prosecuted. It they were not then it is just bad luck.

    We are also told when about to go over the falls we paddle as hard as we can to gain boat speed. At the last minute the guild yells down and everyone gets to the bottom of the raft. On the lower falls I was a fraction slow and cut my chin open on the helmet of the guy in front of me. This required a few stitches but in the meantime the guide got his first ad kit a patched me up temporarily. If I ever do it again I hope I will be quicker.

    I think we agree in principle. However, I think the judge got it right that there was negligence. However, I believe an individual should have been held accountable not the company.

    I have taken a number of small groups up the Paraha Valley in the Waitakeres which is a gorge with very steep sides in many places. There is no way I would go up there without checking the weather. If it really started to rain hard one could probably get out of the river but it would be difficult to find another way out. The party would get pretty wet and cold wait for the river to go down.

    The procedure at OPC should been to check the weather just prior to going in the gorge just like you would do if you were going to Great Barrier in a small boat. You would not rely on a 8am forecast if you were leaving at 2pm.

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  18. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    Agree there Chuck. My main reaction is against the “hang them high” attitude some have, in thinking that somehow if someone gets hurt outdoors then someone needs to be to blame. Glad that isn’t what you’re thinking.

    Forecast in the morning v’s forecast right before. Well, I’d much rather they’d checked the forecast right before going, and I’m sure they would much rather that to. I’m also sure they’ll never do it again. Was the finding that OPC deliberately instructed their team to rely on the morning forecast, or more that they didn’t put controls in place to make sure all their instructors got the latest forecast? There is a big difference between those two.

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  19. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    PaulL needs to at least read what happened before pontificating so profoundly here. Especially with the guide’s failure to check the missing word on the weather report fax.

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  20. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    And Redbaiter needs to fuck right off. But he won’t do that, so……..

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  21. aladin (55 comments) says:

    dpf says: “My reasoning was that while big fines make sense if it was a commercial workplace…”

    Strange reasoning; punishment is supposed to fit the crime, not the perpetrators.

    Linda Axford

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  22. Crusader (276 comments) says:

    I think the responsibility is shared between the organisation itself and the managers of the OPC, and the guides on the day. That gorge was a classic terrain trap, where the magnitude of the water is multiplied many-fold, to the extent that it becomes an almost unescapable situation. Not the place to take inexperienced people unless the forecast is 100% gold standard perfect. Any slightest bit of doubt whatsoever would make a responsible guide take the group to the “bad day” location (a safer river with easier run-outs, etc). A responsible organisation would have systems in place to make sure that the decision always erred on the side of safety. In the case of this “accident” there was an environmental hazard and a weather hazard that combined to create an unprecedented risk in a very rapid timeframe.
    But there was a human factor involved, and that was the fact that the human systems should have been able to predict and avoid that danger. Anyone who denies the importance of the human element in this tragedy is being foolish, since the human element is the one element we are able to affect.
    We must learn from this terrible event to make sure it is less likely to happen in the future. The best way to achieve a safer environment for the kids on courses like this is to fully investigate and make public the findings. To fine the organisation itself will actually achieve nothing of benefit and may actually hamper its operations and even the development of its future safety systems. It is the individuals (managers and guides) who must unfortunately bear the censure (not necessarily a monetary one). I say unfortunately because I know they would be well-meaning individuals and will be heartbroken to this day. Nevertheless, an appropriate censure should be made.
    This is not just a case of hanging anyone high, or finding fault for the sake of it, and not a case of pointing the finger randomly every time someone dies in the outdoors. This was a guided trip of school kids going somewhere very hazardous (that gorge is a very high risk zone) at a time they should never have been there.

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  23. mara (719 comments) says:

    David, do you really think that a commercial organisation would have less incentive to safeguard its clients than a non-profit one in a life or death situation as is the case here?

    [DPF: I didn't say that.]

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  24. mara (719 comments) says:

    David, if you say you ” did not say that” then your rebuttal is “curly” to say the least. But never mind. Good night.

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  25. KiwiGreg (3,170 comments) says:

    Yet another example of the double jeopardy our so-called “no fault” accident compensation scheme has left us with. Why the hell should the OPC pay money to the vitim’s families – isn’t that what ACC is for. This is worse than the US, where at least the victims have to take action, here the Crown does it for you at our cost.

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  26. Chuck Bird (4,668 comments) says:

    “Was the finding that OPC deliberately instructed their team to rely on the morning forecast, or more that they didn’t put controls in place to make sure all their instructors got the latest forecast? There is a big difference between those two.”

    Paul, it would have been the latter. It was management’s job to set procedures. Checking the latest weather forecast would be one of them – making sure the latest weathercast was available to instructors whether by fax, email or mobile. If these forecasts were not available due to equipment failure like the fax not working then go to plan B. If the earlier forecast was not for a perfect day and the weather looks slightly doubtful then cancel the gorge trip.

    The management should set other requirements like the number of people an instructor should take. If is unfair to expect an inexperienced guide to make these sort of decisions.

    I am off tramping so I will not be able to reply today. There will be a number of stream crossings. I have checked the forecast and the weather is good.

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  27. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,811 comments) says:

    Isn’t a good chunk of the money that Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre come from the government? Isn’t this judgement ACC by default?

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