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A Hamlyn Terrace woman has secured a six-figure sum for severe back injuries suffered on a whale watching cruise off the northern NSW coast – after tour operators failed to properly explain its legal waiver.

Before boarding the rapid inflatable boat in October 2015, Linda Bell – and her husband John – was asked to sign a document she believed was a head count sheet.

Her lawyers at Slater and Gordon successfully argued that the whale watching company did not properly explain the purpose of the document she was putting her name to.

On the day of the cruise, the then 58-year-old said the employee driving the boat was putting passengers in dangerous positions with the only instruction being for participants to “ride their seat like a horse”.

At one point, the boat was thrust into the air and landed suddenly, causing Mrs Bell to come down hard on her seat – breaking two vertebrae and compressing her spine.

“After I landed, I passed out because the pain was so intense and John begged them to stop the boat,” Mrs Bell said. “When the boat got back, John had to carry me off while at the same time they warned me that I wouldn’t be able to sue because I’d signed a waiver.

“But at no point did they indicate it was a waiver or any kind of legal document, we honestly thought it was a head count form.”

Mrs Bell was then taken to hospital and was then given pain killers so that she could travel back to the Central Coast the next day.

After visiting her local doctor, her diagnosis was confirmed through a CT scan with a consequent surgery and rehabilitation preventing her from returning to work – as a sales assistant in a shoe shop – for six months.

Two and half years on, Mrs Bell said she still has trouble walking and experiences constant pain, which doctors have told her is only going to get worse.

“It’s the little things that I can’t do, I can’t vacuum, can’t hang clothes on the line and there’s no way I’m going near a boat again,” Mrs Bell said.

Senior Slater and Gordon Lawyer Ashley Davey said it was likely that the document the couple had signed was not explained as a waiver. He said understanding that it was a waiver was crucial in ensuring its efficacy.

Mr Davey said the tour could have been seen to have been a dangerous recreational activity. However, this was not explained to Mrs Bell and, as a result, she now deals with life-altering injuries.

“Linda’s accident could and should have been avoided if better safety precautions were taken and explained,” Mr Davey said.

“Because of the confusion surrounding the signed document, Mrs Bell was rightfully unaware of what she was signing.”

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