Case note: Ireland v B & M Outboard Repairs [2015] QSC 84

Facts

The Plaintiff, Colin Ireland, brought a claim for neck and psychiatric injuries from an explosion on 10 April 2006.

B & M Outboard Repairs (Defendant) performed the maintenance, repair and modification of outboard marine engines.  In September 2004, the Defendant replaced the fuel lines of the Plaintiff’s Haines Hunter (Vessel) and installed an electric fuel pump in the battery compartment.  After the Defendants performed the work the Plaintiff used the Vessel a few times without incident.

In March 2006, the Plaintiff received an enquiry from a prospective purchaser and set about putting the Vessel in a seaworthy condition.  The Plaintiff and his son performed some work on the Vessel.

Some repair work was required to the leg of the outboard motor. Mr Brian Keech, a long term friend of the Plaintiff and a qualified mechanic, assisted with the fitting and repairing of the leg to the outboard motor.  Mr Keech inspected the battery compartments and told the Plaintiff it was dangerous to have the fuel lines, electric fuel pump and battery compartment in close proximity to one another, because of the risk of a spark.

The Plaintiff took the Vessel to Port Hinchinbrook, to launch it for a seaworthy trial.  Once the Vessel was in the water, the Plaintiff reached into the Vessel, turned the ignition key and described ‘a ‘whoosh’ and some flames which forced him to recoil backwards whereupon he fell into shallow water on the back of his neck’.

The Plaintiff suffered a psychiatric injury and a cervical spine injury.  However, the documentary evidence suggested there was no explicit reporting of cervical spine symptoms until 17 months after the incident.

The Plaintiff was head of the Life Church, Townsville.  The Church agreed to continue to pay the Plaintiff 100% of his salary, on his agreement to re-pay 50% of it, in the event he was awarded compensation.  With this arrangement, the Plaintiff was effectively overpaid an amount of $300,000 in wages for his services to the Church, as at the date of trial.

Issues

Liability and quantum were in issue.  The Defendant challenged the Plaintiff on the cause of the explosion, his reporting of the incident, as well as the nature and extent of his injuries.  The Defendant disputed that it had breached the contract with the Plaintiff to perform the work or that they breached the duty of care owed.  The case also considered several defences available under the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld).

Findings

In a judgment delivered 8 April 2015, the Court found as follows:

  1. The Defendants recommended and installed a new system for the pumping of and delivery of fuel to the outboard engine and in a relatively confined space installed the electric pump close to potential ignition sources.  A consequential fire and explosion was foreseeable and the risk of personal injury from such an event was foreseeable.  The Defendants should be held responsible for the harm suffered by the Plaintiff.
  2. The Plaintiff did not voluntarily assume an obvious risk, was not engaged in a dangerous recreational activity and was not contributorily negligent, despite the warning from Mr Keech.
  3. The Plaintiff suffered a serious and disabling psychiatric illness.  Damages were assessed in the sum of $703,721.  This amount included $351,000 for past economic loss, calculated on the basis that the Plaintiff had suffered a 45%-55% loss of earning capacity.

Appeal

An appeal was filed in the Court on 5 May 2015 by the Defendant.