For businesses found liable in personal injury proceedings, the reputational damage can be every bit as serious as the financial consequences. As a case concerning a theme park operator showed, however, they are entitled to have their arguments carefully considered and to a clear judicial explanation as to why they have lost.
After a woman went to the theme park with her young son, they embarked on a roller coaster ride which was not for the faint-hearted. She said that their carriage reached excessive speed, travelling out of control and throwing her from side to side before coming to a sudden halt. She and her son were trapped at the top of the ride for an extended period, on a very hot day, before they were rescued.
In seeking compensation from the operator, she alleged that the incident occurred due to a fault in the ride which had caused her serious physical and psychological injuries. In its defence to the claim, the operator asserted that the ride was safe to use and that it had done all that was reasonably practicable to ensure that its guests came to no harm. Following a one-and-a-half-day trial, however, a judge found the operator liable and ordered it to pay the woman substantial damages.
Upholding the operator's challenge to that outcome, the High Court noted that the judge gave her decision orally just after each side had made their final arguments. That was a common occurrence. However, given the numerous issues raised during the case, some of them technical, her decision to give an immediate ruling, without taking any time for reflection, was challenging and ambitious. When transcribed, her judgment ran to just over three pages.
The case was not straightforward and it was apparent that the judge was not well prepared to deliver her decision. She failed to engage adequately with the operator's arguments and it was not possible to discern from her ruling the basis on which she rejected key aspects of its case. Overall, her judgment was not coherent and did not adequately explain why the operator's defence failed and the woman's claim succeeded. The Court directed a retrial of the claim.