Boat accident victim wonders if life is worth living

19:55, May 07 2012
cathy cooke
VICTIM: Cathy Cooke was awarded $90,000 compensation

The devastating jetboat accident that paralysed Cathy Cooke changed her life so dramatically she sometimes wonders whether it is worth living.

"And I can't begin to explain how my accident has affected my husband, family and friends," Cooke said at the Auckland District Court yesterday.

"I don't dare ask because I can see the sadness in their eyes."

Cooke, 53, was left unable to walk after the accident on December 21, 2010, aboard the high-speed boat Mack Attack, owned by Seafort Holdings Ltd.

Judge Phil Gittos yesterday ordered Seafort to pay Cooke $90,000 compensation.

He also fined the firm $20,000 for failing to take steps to ensure its passengers were safe and $10,000 for failing to notify authorities of the accident.

The incident happened on a journey to the Hole in the Rock landmark, from Paihia, when the boat hit a wave and Cooke was thrown to the floor.

"I found I could not feel my legs and had no mobility... and then I felt the pain," she said.

Surgeons inserted two metal rods into Cooke's spine to replace her damaged vertebrae, each rod more than seven inches long.

In a victim impact statement labelled "courageous" by Judge Gittos, Cooke described how her life had changed since the accident.

She battled a constant calendar of doctor's appointments, ACC meetings, planning appointments, specialist sessions and, at one point, was taking up to 27 pills a day.

"We all experience stress and frustration. My claim to a zillion times more frustration would be accurate. I cannot describe it enough."

She couldn't ride her horse, Kodak, so it was sent to a friend two hours away. There was no working on the farm, no gym classes, no swimming.

Plans for walks, cycles, visits and even barbecues had to be cancelled or turned down because of her injury. Physical therapy - to help Cooke hopefully learn to walk again - took so much time a housekeeper was brought in to do the chores.

Against all of this was the pending court case, taken by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), against Seafort.

From the company, Cooke said, there was no apology, no refund.

"The dramatic change on December 21, 2010 was because a third party was breaking the law," she said.

"It puzzles and disturbs me that it means so little [to them]."

Seafort had earlier pleaded guilty to failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee at work harmed any other person and failing to notify the Secretary of Transport of serious harm.

Judge Gittos said he understood how it would have been difficult for them to approach Cooke.

He accepted the company was remorseful but said the harm caused to Cooke deserved a payment at the top end of the scale.

The compensation meant little to Cooke and her husband John.

"I'm not exactly jumping for joy," she said.

Cooke's husband said the money might be able to help with treatment or at the house. "We are hoping she will walk again but we don't know when or how well."

Seafort was the second company to be sentenced yesterday on charges brought by MNZ.
Intercity Group (NZ) Ltd, owner of the Paihia-based boat Excitor III, was ordered to pay Auckland resident Petula Patey $60,000 and her London-based best friend Amanda Lee $45,000 for an incident during a jet boat trip in the Bay of Islands in January last year.

The court heard that the injured women had gone on the trip after the wedding of Patey's daughter.

Another woman, Jan Phillips from Brisbane, who broke vertebrae on a trip two months later, was also awarded $45,000.


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