Posted on 16 Aug 2021
A quadriplegic former pilot who survived a helicopter crash has been forced to pursue Papua New Guinea based aviation company Hevilift in the PNG court system, for the $5.6 million he is owed following a Cairns Supreme Court decision in April last year.
Hevilift was found to have failed to warn Bruce Towers about dangerous flying conditions and to provide him with safe flight instruments, causing his helicopter to crash in PNG in 2006. Hevilift announced in May 2020 they would appeal the decision. More than 12 months later, Mr Towers has been left in limbo, unable to plan for he and his family’s future.
Slater and Gordon Workers’ Compensation In-house Counsel Tim Lucey said Hevilift’s inaction and refusal to pay had left Mr Towers with no choice but to lodge the $5.6 million judgement in the PNG court system in order to pursue debt recovery.
“There are debt recovery enforcement processes if a company claims they do not have the money or if they refuse to pay compensation or ignore a court decision. Once the judgement is accepted in PNG we can appoint a liquidator. It is not as though Hevilift does not have the funds to pay this man. They continue to operate in Australia, as well as overseas too,” Mr Lucey said.
“We are now questioning whether Hevilift should continue to have an air licence in Australia, due to such poor corporate behaviour. They are using the court process as a delay tactic to avoid paying this quadriplegic crash survivor who is going to require care for the rest of his life.”
Mr Towers fought hard to have his case heard in Australia, winning a Supreme Court trial against Hevilift and an appeal in 2016. He returned to the courts last year to claim millions in damages from the company to cover his quadriplegic injuries, loss of wages and future care.
But Hevilift is now contesting the Australian judgement being registered in PNG, saying the Queensland court didn’t have the jurisdiction to hear the claim. However, the Queensland court had applied PNG law and the matter was heard in the most convenient location.
Mr Towers said he was frustrated that after a drawn-out 15-year legal battle, Hevilift was continuing to delay compensating him for the tragedy that occurred, which killed three people and left him unable to walk again. The 70-year-old is considering making a complaint about Hevilift’s poor conduct to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the government body responsible for regulating Australian aviation safety.
“They want me to go away, give up and probably to die before they will agree to pay. I’m not going away. I try and keep myself together in the tiny granny flat I’m living in. I’ve got no income, and my previous home burnt down. Hevilift’s argument to stop the judgement being transferred is artificial and designed to further delay the matter. The matter has been heard already in Australia over a number of years. The issues they have raised in contesting the judgement in PNG are ones we have already been over and determined by the court years ago,” he said.
“To have an airline licence, an aviation company must behave like a fit and proper corporate citizen. CASA controls and regulates that. Hevilift may lose their ability to continue operating if they don’t do the right thing.”
Media Contact Anna Chisholm (03) 9602 8683/ 0437 801 093