The Big Bang

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Lex Ne­gus

In the wake of the quarry disas­ter in Cul-de-Sac, Saint Lu­cians wait pa­tiently for the re­sults of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter. Ag­grieved friends and fam­i­lies of the dead and in­jured await clo­sure and some form of com­pen­sa­tion. From much of what has been said pub­licly it seems most ex­pect sums of mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion but it is not com­mon knowl­edge that de­pend­ing on the re­sults of the on-go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, there could be crim­i­nal charges for caus­ing death by gross neg­li­gence, a charge akin to man­slaugh­ter.

A Cana­dian re­cently pleaded guilty to the same charge as a re­sult of his in­volve­ment in the death of a four-year-old at the Bois Chadon Beach in Vieux Fort. It was re­ported that the court had or­dered the Cana­dian to pay $75,000 as com­pen­sa­tion to the de­ceased boy’s fam­ily or in de­fault serve three years at Borde­lais.

If the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the quarry in­ci­dent should un­cover neg­li­gence, the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions will have the op­tion of lay­ing charges against the com­pany and/or its of­fi­cers. The com­pany can be called upon to face charges like any other per­son but only if the charge al­lows for the im­po­si­tion of a non-cus­to­dial sen­tence, for ex­am­ple a fine.

Pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges are not the com­pany’s only worry, how­ever. In ad­di­tion to jail time and other penal­ties, those deemed legally re­spon­si­ble may be re­quired to pay com­pen­sa­tion to the be­reaved as well as the in­jured per­sons in civil court. Crim­i­nal law and civil law par­al­lel one an­other and as such the com­pany could be made to pay civil com­pen­sa­tion even where a crim­i­nal fine has al­ready been im­posed.

The ques­tion arises: how do the courts as­sess per­sonal in­juries, and what is the value of an arm, leg, fin­ger or eye? The as­sess­ment is usu­ally split into two heads: spe­cial dam­ages, com­pen­sa­tion for which can be specif­i­cally quan­ti­fied and proven. e.g. hos­pi­tal bills; and gen­eral dam­ages, be­ing com­pen­sa­tion for things which can­not be specif­i­cally quan­ti­fied, e.g. pain and suf­fer­ing.

Gen­er­ally, there are five con­sid­er­a­tions which a court would bear in mind when de­ter­min­ing how much to award a vic­tim for gen­eral dam­ages: the na­ture and ex­tent of the in­jury suf­fered; the na­ture and the grav­ity of the re­sult­ing physical in­juries (e.g. re­sult­ing dis­abil­ity, or scar­ring); the pain and suf­fer­ing en­dured; the loss of ameni­ties (e.g. where a per­son is not able to en­joy ac­tiv­i­ties like sports as they did be­fore.); the ex­tent to which the vic­tim’s pe­cu­niary prospects have been af­fected, (e.g. where the vic­tim is no longer able to work as a re­sult of in­juries sus­tained or their em­ploy­ment pos­si­bil­i­ties have been ham­pered).

To put it in per­spec­tive, there was a pic­ture cir­cu­lated of a per­son who had re­ceived a se­vere in­jury to his foot, los­ing two toes, al­legedly as a re­sult of the quarry tragedy.

Kathy Bade­nock v Coreas Hazells Inc. is a case from St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines where Ms. Bade­nock suf­fered a 2cm cut to her left great toe while browsing the de­fen­dant’s hard­ware store. The cut caused dam­age to the claimant’s ten­don and a tem­po­rary re­duc­tion in her range of mo­tion. Nev­er­the­less, she man­aged to make a full re­cov­ery. The court awarded Ms. Bade­nock $17,000 for her in­jury. It goes with­out say­ing that the court would un­doubt­edly award more in a case where some­one has lost two toes.

The con­sid­er­a­tions are a bit dif­fer­ent when as­sess­ing the value of a life for the pur­poses of a wrong­ful death ac­tion.

Ob­vi­ously we’ve not heard the last of the quarry ex­plo­sion in Saint Lu­cia.

If the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the quarry in­ci­dent should un­cover neg­li­gence, the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions will have the op­tion of lay­ing charges against the com­pany and/or its of­fi­cers.

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