One of New Zealand's best racehorse trainers has been fined and ordered to pay more than $ 370,000 in damages after a young, ambitious jockey was left tetraplegic.
In 2016, Sofia Malthus was left paralyzed after the then 19-year-old got off a horse in one of Stephen McKee's stables near Ardmore in Auckland.
A 31-year-old trainer pleaded guilty earlier this year to one charge of exposing a person to serious injury or death following an investigation into WorkSafe NZ.
He was sentenced in Auckland District Court by Judge Noel on Friday afternoon Sainsbury.
It was the first such punishment in New Zealand, the court heard.
At the time of the incident, Malthus, now in his early 20s, had been hired by McKee as a steady hand, but had dreamed of becoming an apprentice jockey and competing in purebreds.
Although he had little riding experience, Malthus never rode a thoroughbred workhorse before the day of the accident, the court heard.
To achieve her aspirations, her parents sent her to a training center in Palmerston North earlier in 2016, where she rode quieter and older horses in an arena.
At the end of the course, she was described as a novice rider who was doing well but did not yet have the muscle strength to ride in the saddle of a running race horse, the court heard.
She was advised that she should gain more experience on quiet horses before jumping on race horses.
However, McKee did not know the directive and did not contact the equestrian center the court heard.
When Malthus returned to his track near Auckland, it was suggested that she might embark on her first trip on a working racing horse.
McKee had never seen Malthus ride, but she was put in the saddle of a 3-year-old thoroughbred.
The horse, which had a name suppression, was considered generally well-maintained and had no propensity for bolts, spitting and reversing, the court heard.
Wearing a helmet, vest and riding boots, and accompanied by a jockey apprentice on another horse, Malthus stepped onto the training track.
It was about 8:30 in the morning while McKee was watching them perform the first tour of the trot.
Malthus then took the horse for a second lap, this time to Kent.
But soon she lost control.
"Unfortunately, this caused panic," Judge Sainsbury said. "An inexperienced rider responding to a horse only made things worse."
Those around the track tried to close the gates to protect the horse from bolts, but the animal picked up speed and headed straight for the perimeter fence.
Then Malthus lost control of the reins and fell.
"Looks like she hit the fence," Judge Sainsbury said. "Alternatively, she may have been hit by one of the hoof hooves."
Malthus broke the vertebrae of the C5 in his spine – he would never walk again.
She remained in intensive care for the next six days and spent another 12 weeks in the spine ward, nine months ago in rehab at the home.
The accident left her with almost no sensation or motor skills from the clavicle down, and now she requires constant care while living with her parents.
Impact statements about the victims of Malthus and her family were not read aloud in court at her request Friday, while she also declined an interview with Herald earlier this week.
"I have to say that I found that they were being urged to read," Judge Sainsbury said of the statements.
The WorkSafe investigation concludes that McKee knew or should have known about the dangers and risks that a young rider faces on his horse and track.
In addition, it found that Malthus lacked the formal training required to be loaded with a running race horse and did not ride horses before galloping.
McKee said investigating WorkSafe purebred animals is "a flying animal and right at the top of the list as far as unpredictability goes."
Judge Sainsbury's said that McKee could get independent feedback on Malthus' riding ability from the horse center and give her gradual training and development.
But the judge praised veterans' training in taking responsibility, pleading guilty and cooperating throughout the investigation.
Through his lawyer, Paul Wicks QC, McKee extended "his deepest sympathies" and could only describe what had happened as "tragic."
The judge said McKee's record of the incident was "flawless".
"It's a tragedy for everyone, I understand that."
During the hearing, Judge Sansbury also grappled with the question of what the full compensation for such an incident might be.
"What has to be compensated at the age of 19 so that he does not move again for the rest of his life?"
"What's the dollar figure for that? The nearest million would be nice," he asked the counselor.
The judge said the ACC's compensation system may be viewed as fantastic for white, middle-aged men, but "not so much a crash hot" for a young woman with a minimum wage.
The ACC limits compensation for subsequent losses to 80 percent of a person's income, the court heard.
"I don't think any other living, breathing person on this planet would say it is fair compensation, but it is a system we have," Judge Sainsbury said as he calculated the monetary figure.
The aftermath of the Malthus incident was "catastrophic," the judge said, while the ripple effects were just as devastating, both physically and psychologically.
"It has lost almost every movement," he added. "And her independence was taken from her.
"This is a 19-year-old young woman who is facing a very difficult future."
He hoped Malthus, who was not in court for the sentence, but her stepmother, "will bring as much courage as he can muster."
In awarding compensation, the judge stated that the amount "would never fully compensate or come close to the level of injury".
After ordering $ 110,000 in emotional damages, he said, "This cannot in any way be real compensation. This is the best that can be done in the circumstances."
A figure of $ 262,000 in subsequent loss recovery was also awarded, largely due to Malthus's inability to work.
But Judge Sansbury said it was "deeply insulting" to someone who is injured while on the minimum wage to be compensated as if he would remain on the minimum wage for the rest of his life.
"This level of reparation can never be seen as reflecting the value of Sofia Malthus," he added.
"I can only hope that things are getting better for Ms Malthus and her family."
According to Malthus, according to her Instagram page, she recently became a spokesperson for health and wellness seminars.
McKee was also fined $ 30,000 and ordered to pay $ 3,000 in costs.
In a statement after the verdict, WorkSafe said its investigation found that McKee had failed to ensure that Malthus was competent to ride a racing horse.
Specialized interventions chief Simon Humphries said that McKee should lead and evaluate the development of a stable arm's riding ability on more suitable horses.
McKee has been a horse trainer for more than 30 years and should have been aware of the dangers and risks posed by the industry, he said.
"There was no formal training to monitor, control and advance her from steady hand to riding a racehorse," Humphries said.
"The life of this young woman is drastically affected and the incident serves as a reminder to employers that they should always ensure that the staff is able to work."