Climbing fine stirs mother

A Tauranga mother who claims her daughter suffered “lifelong injuries” from a rock climbing accident is filled with hope after reading about the prosecution of a business involved in a similar incident.

Debbie McCauley could only watch in horror as her daughter Sophie fell four metres onto a concrete floor 13 months ago, while indoor rock climbing at The Rock House in Mount Maunganui.

The Rock House in Mount Maunganui.

As a result Sophie, aged 13 at the time, sustained a broken hip as well as several fractures and ligament damage to one foot, which doctors described as having “too much damage to rebuild”. She was confined to a wheelchair for four months.

In February this year, The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment made the decision to not prosecute The Rock House, stating a lack of evidence for a case against the company.

Now, Debbie says the sentencing of Turangi’s Vertical Assault Limited in the Taupo District Court last month should set a precedent for similar accidents – including Sophie’s.

The company was fined $50,000 on a charge brought by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Health and Safety Group, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act after a 15-year-old boy fell 15 metres while rock climbing.

Last October, the boy was being assisted by a 14-year-old friend when he fell, breaking his right tibia and fracturing his left heel bone. He underwent several surgeries and had metal pins inserted in both legs.

In court, the company was fined $35,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $15,000 to the boy and his family.

Despite Debbie’s renewed hopes, a Health and Safety group spokesperson says they have investigated Debbie’s claims sufficiently and do not intend to be re-open Sophie’s case.

“We havehad considerable interaction with Mrs McCauley and we have explained to her our conclusions.”

A Rock House spokesperson is pleased the case will not be re-opened and says they can continue to focus on providing a safe environment for friends and family.

“We weren’t in the wrong at all. Obviously we wouldn’t want it to happen again as it was a terrible accident,” says the spokesperson.

Sophie is still undergoing surgeries to remove the screws and plate holding her hip together, with doctors telling the family she suffered the worst possible type of hip break, which still carries the possibility of complications.

During the last year, Sophie has grown almost two centimetres in height, growth that has not occurred in the leg attached to the broken hip.

“She will carry the scars and consequences from these injuries for the rest of her life,” says Debbie.

Looking at the two cases side by side, every person climbing should have their carabineer double-checked by someone else before each climb, says Debbie.

“It’s not as if they are ten pin bowling. Injury and death can occur if health and safety is not taken seriously. Having bare concrete in the fall area at this type of facility is unacceptable.”

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