THE owners of the Arthurs Seat chairlift have been fined $110,000 and convicted after an accident that left an elderly woman with severe leg injuries.
Despite yesterday's conviction, owner Richard Hudson plans to reopen the Mornington Peninsula tourist attraction as early as next month.
The chairlift's history has been marred by the 2004 accident and another in January 2003 when a pylon collapsed, leaving 18 people injured.
Mr Hudson was forced to close the chairlift in September last year at a loss of more than $1 million in income and profits.
In sentencing the chairlift company yesterday, County Court Judge David Parsons said maintenance had been inadequate and had failed to protect passengers such as Tri Thi Le, who was 77 at the time.
Ms Le's legs were crushed when her chair lost grip on the overhead cable and slipped about 20m into the carriage in front.
Judge Parsons rejected theories of sabotage put forward by the company's lawyers, who argued that bolts on the overhead cable above Ms Le's chair had been deliberately interfered with.
"It is more likely the grips became loose as a result of a lack of maintenance," Judge Parsons said.
"I think it unlikely the grips become loose as a result of sabotage."
A safety inspection revealed only eight of the chairlift's 68 chairs were set to the recommended torque.
Judge Parsons said this reflected the company's lack of proper maintenance.
In a statement released yesterday, the company regretted the injuries to Ms Le and admitted it should have checked the gripping mechanism 10 days before. "The directors of the company visited Mrs Le in hospital to offer their best wishes for her recovery and the company's insurance has paid her compensation claim," the company said.
The company also said it would be filing a complaint to the ombudsman over WorkSafe's"high-handed and destructive" dealings since the accident.
Judge Parsons said the chairlift company had entered a plea of guilty at a late stage in the court proceedings, which indicated modest, rather than significant, remorse.
He convicted and fined the company for one count of failing to ensure the safety of people other than employees, which carries a maximum penalty of $250,000.
WorkSafe executive director John Merritt urged other companies to be vigilant about safety checks.
"In this case a lack of systematic maintenance was a major issue. It had serious ramifications for the injured people and their family, and others on the ride that day," Mr Merritt said.
"WorkSafe's appeal to other recreation operators is to ensure safety standards are maintained at all times."
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