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State Govt body to sue new RAH joint venture


EXCLUSIVE | State Government workplace insurer ReturnToWork SA and the widow of Jorge Castillo-Riffo, killed while working on the new Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site in 2014, have both launched legal action against the hospital joint venture.

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New Royal Adelaide Hospital death

Castillo-Riffo, 54, was fatally injured when his back and head were crushed in a scissor lift on the nRAH site in 2014.

InDaily can reveal that his widow, Pam Gurner-Hall, has filed a civil claim in the District Court against the companies that jointly designed the $2.6 billion hospital and managed its construction – Hansen Yuncken and CPB Contractors (known at the time as Leighton Contractors).

The Courts Administration Authority has confirmed to InDaily that ReturnToWork SA – the state’s work injury insurer – also filed a claim against the two companies last Friday, seeking damages.

Gurner-Hall’s lawyer Martin Faull, of Lindbloms Lawyers, told InDaily ReturnToWork SA was intending to recoup costs resulting from Castillo-Riffo’s death.

However, a spokesperson for the Government was unable to confirm any details of the legal action before publication today.

Gurner-Hall claims the joint venture, HYLC, failed to provide her partner with any training to safely operate the scissor lift in a confined space, failed to provide instruction on, or identify, safety hazards, failed to ensure that a nurse – or a first aid officer – was on duty at the time of the accident, and failed to provide an observer for the task.

She is also suing the owner of the scissor lift, Form 700, claiming that:

The manufacturer of the Snorkel-brand scissor lift, Ahern Australia, is also listed as a defendant, accused of failing to ensure an adequate distinction between the up/down and driving movement controls on the machine.

ReturnToWork’s action does not, according to the Courts Administration Authority, name Form 700 or Ahern Australia.

Gurner-Hall claims the companies placed “excessive demands on contractors and workers at the new RAH in order to meet productivity schedules”.

This pressure caused labourers to work “at an excessive pace, or using unsafe practices, when they (the companies) knew, or ought to have known, that safe work practices, and safety, would be sacrificed, or curtailed, in order to meet the demands,” her statement of claim says.

She also accuses the companies of failing to heed prior incidents and workplace injuries at the hospital construction site – and failing to identify that Castillo-Riffo was in danger on the scissor lift.

Castillo-Riffo was found at about 7:20am on November 27, 2014, collapsed in cardiac arrest, with his head caught between a concrete roof ledge and the top edge of the scissor lift, Gurner-Hall’s statement of claim says.

The document says he died the following day while in intensive care at the (old) Royal Adelaide Hospital, due to compression of the neck, which had deprived his brain of oxygen.

Gurner-Hall says she has suffered an impaired ability to enjoy and participate in work and life, lost time at work and incurred medical expenses as a result of her partner’s death – and had been dependent on Castillo-Riffo’s income.

She told InDaily she was pursuing the companies through the courts to bring accountability for what happened to her partner.

“Nobody sees it through (legal action) because it’s too hard,” said Gurner-Hall.

“(But) they have to stand up and be accountable.

“That’s why I’m doing it.”

She said aside from the trauma of her partner’s death, the incident had been “catastrophic to my own financial security”.

“I personally have lost a year’s worth of wages and have had to go part-time,” she said.

“It’s had a debilitating effect on my own personal health and wellbeing.”

She said she had commissioned independent investigators to assess the scissor lift.

“It shouldn’t have even been on the site,” she said.

The legal action was filed on Friday last week – one business day before the three-year time limit on launching litigation.

In February this year, SafeWork SA abandoned its prosecution of HYLC over the death, one business day before it was due to begin.

Premier Jay Weatherill commissioned an investigation into why the Government’s workplace safety watchdog had failed in prosecuting several workplace deaths since 2010.

However, the Government has refused to release the findings of that review, arguing its contents are subject to legal professional privilege.

A coronial inquest into Castillo-Riffo’s death will begin on 19 March next year, two days after the next state election.

A spokesperson for Hansen Yuncken told InDaily that: “Unfortunately due to the nature of the matter we can’t provide any comment – it is commercial in confidence.”

Ahern Australia also declined to comment.

InDaily contacted CPB Contractors and Form 700 for comment.

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