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Woman hurt when cruise ship ceiling fell on her head

June 5, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A young woman from Wollongong has been awarded AUD 445,372 after being struck on the head and shoulder by a piece of cruise ship ceiling, which fell on her during a Christmas cruise on P&O’s Pacific Jewel.

Montana Smith, was aged just 14 when she was struck by the ceiling in 2011. She was standing in a companionway of the ship with her two cousins when three sections of ceiling came loose.

Circumstances of the incident, outlined in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, were that Smith was aboard the ship with her immediate and extended family for a Christmas holiday cruise.

“On 27 December 2011, the second last day of the cruise, the plaintiff [Smith] was standing in a companionway with two of her cousins waiting for a friend to join them when three ceiling panels suddenly fell hitting her on the head and left shoulder on their way to the floor. Each panel was approximately 1 metre long, 150 millimetres thick (there was no evidence of breadth) and fitted with lighting and related electrical components.

“The plaintiff said that she was struck on the left side of her skull, towards the back of her head. She did not lose consciousness, but felt sore and shocked. She noticed a lump on top of her head and suffered immediate pain in her head. She was seen by a ship’s doctor, who found a contusion on her scalp in the left parietal region. She was given head injury advice and prescribed paracetamol.

P&O’s Pacific Jewel

“The plaintiff said that by the time the ship docked in Sydney Harbour she was suffering pain in the centre of the base of her neck and in her left shoulder. She described it as moderately bad and she consulted her general practitioner (GP), Dr Shabbir Haider at about 5.50pm on 28 December 2011, in his surgery at Barrack Heights, south of Wollongong.”

NSW Supreme Court judge Stephen Campbell ordered P&O to pay Smith AUD 445,000 in damages for the difficulties and expenses she faced, and still faces, including surgery to her spine.

The court orders issued last week were:

  1. Judgment for the plaintiff [Smith] in the sum of AUD 445,372.
  2. The defendant [Carnival Plc trading as P&O Cruises Australia] pay the plaintiff’s costs.
  3. Liberty to the defendant to apply in respect of the costs order by lodging with Justice Campbell’s Chambers written submissions and any evidence relied on within 14 days.
  4. The plaintiff to have a further period of 14 days to respond.

The impact caused an injury to Smith’s cervical spine, the vertebrae that make up the neck.

The judge considered Smith faced about a 60% chance of needing to undertake disc replacement surgery within the next six months.  A doctor in 2016 had said “depending on the type of surgery (more than likely disc excision and stabilisation) the cost may vary from anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 or so”.

Following the judgement, Smith told the Sydney Morning Herald that during her schooldays she had needed to take painkillers every day to manage her pain to a level where she could sit her exams. She sometimes needed “to have four needles injected into my spine, whilst I was awake, in an attempt to lessen the pain”.

She said that while dealing with “regular teenage things” such as the HSC, she also had to deal with eight doctors, a legal case, 12 painkillers a day, the psychological effects of suffering such an injury at the age of 14, “and accepting that I will live with pain most probably for the rest of my life”.

Judge Campbell said: “Although she has done well in life so far, I accept that it has not been easy for her and that she has needed help and consideration to achieve what she has so far. Doubtless her own determination is a credit to her.

“She has undergone extensive conservative medical treatment including the facet joint injections which were, I accept, painful. Although treatment is intended to be curative, the conservative treatment has done no more than maintain her symptoms more or less on a tolerable plateau.”

Details of the case, and the way the decision was reached, can be found on the NSW Case Law website here.

Written by Peter Needham

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