Haulage company fined €1m for health and safety breach moves to appeal
A road haulage company fined €1 million after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety laws over a road accident in which two women lost their lives, has moved to appeal its sentence.
Roadteam Logistic Solutions, formerly known as Nolan Transport Limited with a registered address at Oaklands, New Ross, had pleaded guilty at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court to a breach of section 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 following a road accident in 2007 which resulted in the deaths of two women.
The company was fined €1 million for breaching the health and safety laws by Mr Justice Raymond Fullam on Februray 25, 2013.
Moving an appeal against its sentence today, barrister Shane Murphy SC, for the company, submitted that the sentencing judge erred in stating that the case was “the worst” to come before the Circuit Court.
Mr Murphy said his client was sentenced on the basis that what it did was allegedly deliberate and was in alleged disregard of previous warnings but the evidence on all of those points “was silent”.
Furthermore, Mr Murphy submitted that the fine imposed was wholly disproportionate to an offence of omission rather than commission.
He said it did not involve a deliberate act, it was not perpetrated deliberately for material gain, there had been no previous incidents and the company had not disregarded previous warnings from the Health and Safety Authority.
Mr Murphy said the company had met its responsibility, accepted its fault and expressed deep regret for the incident. He said it was accepted there were very serious consequences for innocent third parties and €700,000 of the fine had been paid to date.
Having fixed the case at an erroneously high level, Mr Murphy said the error translated into the judge's quatum or consideration of the figure.
Citing comparator cases, Mr Murphy said the Health Service Executive (HSE) were fined €300,000 following the death of a paramedic as a result of a faulty ambulance door. In that case, he claimed, "a life could have been saved" if a previous warning had been heeded.
In another comparator, Wicklow County Council pleaded guilty following the deaths of two firemen and €350,000 was considered the appropriate sentence in that case, counsel said.
In response to a question from Mr Justice Alan Mahon, Mr Murphy said no “special tariff” applied to public bodies whose fines were paid with public funds as opposed to private companies.
Mr Murphy said other options were open to the DPP, including corporate manslaughter, which were not followed.
Barrister Paul Anthony McDermott SC, also for the appelant, said the judge engaged in “an ad-hoc enquiry” into the structure of the company.
That certain entities were offshore shouldn't have been an issue, Mr McDermott submitted adding that the appelant was indiscriminately punished for the way it structured its' affairs.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Thomas O'Malley BL, said the company pleaded guilty to an offence which specified that persons were put at risk because of a load not being adequately secured.
That failure resulted in the death of two “completely innocent women” and injury to three others.
He said the failure to secure a load was a central concern to anybody involved in the road haulage business.
A report produced by the European Commission, which was contained in the Book of Evidence, opened with the statistic that 25 per cent of accidents involving trucks could be attributed to inadequate cargo securing, Mr O'Malley said.
The appelant was a major road haulage company in Ireland and possibly the EU. For the appelant to be unaware of the fact that there has to be a very high level of care with the securing of loads, would have added to their culpability and pushed it higher, Mr O'Malley said.
There was more than one opportunity to ensure the load was secured, he said. The lorry, which left Wales for Rosslare, was parked in the appelant's yard in New Ross and resumed its journey the next day.
Mr O'Malley said the fine was heavy but in no means the heaviest. The maxium fine available was €3 million and the judge imposed one-third of that on the appelant.
A fine was never intrinsically too severe or too lenient, Mr O'Malley said. “You have to look at the means of the offender involved and the judge did that”.
Furthermore, he said the court was entitled to have regard to deterrance.
Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court would reserve judgment.