Judges opting for heavier COR penalties

Brisbane-based law firm says courts are imposing chain of responsibility fines close to the maximums available - which have also increased

Judges opting for heavier COR penalties
Lawyer Gillian Bristow says judges are trending towards heavier penalties for breaches of COR rules


A specialist transport industry lawyer says courts are imposing close to maximum penalties on organisations breaching chain of responsibility (COR) laws.

Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers special counsel Gillian Bristow says the new Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) features heavier fines still, and organisations throughout the supply chain need to consider their systems and processes carefully.

"[Recent cases] demonstrate the willingness of courts to impose penalties close to the maximum where operators do not have proper systems and practices of load restraint," she says in a special analysis of decisions by the NSW Supreme Court.

"Directors will not escape liability simply by delegating safety and compliance to suitably qualified staff."

The case note refers to fines handed down to both Doble Express Transport and Air Liquide last year.

A Doble rigid truck failed to properly secure its load of empty gas cylinders, resulting in the contents shifting during a turn and the trailer overturning into oncoming traffic.

One car driver was killed in the resultant collision.

Bristow notes that the conduct of the two businesses involved after the incident contributed to the court’s decisions on penalties.

Doble Express Transport was fined $24,750 (the maximum fine was $27,500) while its director, Graeme Doble, was fined $4,400 (the maximum fine was $5,500).

Consigning party Air Liquide on the other hand, was fined $5,500 of the maximum $27,500.

Justice Peter Garling noted the seriousness of the breach, and Air Liquide’s very real role in it, but also welcomed changes in policies and processes at the company.

"The court noted that many of the steps that Air Liquide took after the incident were steps that it should have already put in place," Bristow says.

"Nonetheless, the court found that these measures were likely to prevent similar offences occurring in the future."

Air Liquide also had no previous convictions, whereas Doble Express Transport had previously been fined for underpaying workers, and appeared to have made no changes to its procedures in the years following the incident.

"The court found that Doble Express’ approach to securing loads adequately at distant locations had not changed appreciably since the accident," Bristow says.

"Under the direction of Mr Doble, Doble Express ‘continued to operate its freight transport business in a way which presented ongoing and largely uncontrolled and unaddressed risks to public safety’."

Bristow warns that the precedent is even more relevant under the HVNL.

"Transport operators and others in the supply chain should be aware that the maximum penalty that a court can impose on a company for a breach of load restraint provisions under the new HVNL is $50,000: much higher than under previous state legislation."

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