Jin Chang Oh from South Korea died after boogie boarding down Te Paki Sand Dunes and into the path of a bus. (File photo)
A Northland beach tour company has been ordered to pay $400,000 in fines and reparation for a safety failure where a tourist in its care died after boogie boarding down a sand dune.
But the company, Sand Safaris 2014, had a $280,000 discount applied to the fine because of its difficult financial situation following Covid-19 restrictions on tourists.
Jin Chang Oh, 68, a “much-loved father and grandfather” from South Korea died in February 2019 at Te Paki Sand Dunes in the Far North.
The family were on a guided tour with Sand Safaris, which included the option of riding down the popular dunes while lying on a boogie board.
Oh rode down the sand dune, through an over-run area at the bottom of the dune and into the path of another tour bus, also operated by Sand Safaris.
He suffered fatal head injuries in front of his family members and died at the scene.
WorkSafe charged Sand Safaris under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, for failing in its duty to ensure people were not exposed to the risk of serious injury or death from its business.
Sand Safaris, directed by Garth Petricevich, denied the charge and the case was brought before the Kaitāia District Court in December 2022.
During the trial, WorkSafe argued Sand Safaris knew Te Paki Sand Dunes ended in what was effectively a road and should’ve managed the traffic risk with signs, cordons, a person at the bottom of the sand dune or using a different sand dune.
The risk was highlighted in 2016 when a boy, who was sandboarding with another company, also ran into a vehicle at the bottom of the dune, suffering serious injuries.
Sand Safaris said the risk was managed by the bus driver watching for approaching vehicles at the top of the sand dunes.
Oh went down the dune out of turn and failed to heed instructions for slowing down, the company argued during the trial.
But Judge Philip Rzepecky found Sand Safaris guilty in May 2023 and found Oh was not to blame “at all” for what happened to him.
Sand Safaris could’ve implemented an effective traffic management system to help prevent the death, which it did just a week after the accident, the judge found.
At the sentencing at the Whangārei District Court on Monday, Judge Rzepecky reiterated the accident was not the fault of Oh, and said the company’s continual blame of the victim showed a lack of remorse.
The sentencing was attended remotely from Korea by Oh’s son, Sang Kyun Oh, who also provided a written victim impact statement.
“He was a much-loved father and grandfather,” the judge summarised. “He was a very important person in his family and the community, with a career in educational institutions.”
The judge ordered Sand Safaris to pay Oh’s family $130,000 in emotional harm reparation and $53,200 in consequential loss reparation – to help cover the likes of flights, translators and funeral costs.
Judge Rzepecky found Sand Safaris was liable for a fine of $480,000, which took into account small discounts for co-operation, reparation, remedial steps taken since the accident and the company’s prior clean health and safety record.
But the judge then reduced the fine amount to $200,000 to reflect the company’s financial position, which had deteriorated since the accident due to the impact of Covid restrictions on the tourism industry.
Any fine should not put the company out of business altogether, Judge Rzepecky said.
“It is a local Northland company of reasonable longevity which employs a number of local people,” he said.
Sand Safaris was also ordered to pay WorkSafe $23,000, to cover half its legal costs.
Sand Safaris no longer runs its Te Paki Sand Dunes operation, although that is mostly due to the post-Covid downturn in the tourism industry.