In the wake of the quarry disaster in Cul-de-Sac, Saint Lucians wait patiently for the results of an investigation into the matter. Aggrieved friends and families of the dead and injured await closure and some form of compensation. From much of what has been said publicly it seems most expect sums of monetary compensation but it is not common knowledge that depending on the results of the on-going investigation, there could be criminal charges for causing death by gross negligence, a charge akin to manslaughter.
A Canadian recently pleaded guilty to the same charge as a result of his involvement in the death of a four-year-old at the Bois Chadon Beach in Vieux Fort. It was reported that the court had ordered the Canadian to pay $75,000 as compensation to the deceased boy’s family or in default serve three years at Bordelais.
If the investigation into the quarry incident should uncover negligence, the Director of Public Prosecutions will have the option of laying charges against the company and/or its officers. The company can be called upon to face charges like any other person but only if the charge allows for the imposition of a non-custodial sentence, for example a fine.
Possible criminal charges are not the company’s only worry, however. In addition to jail time and other penalties, those deemed legally responsible may be required to pay compensation to the bereaved as well as the injured persons in civil court. Criminal law and civil law parallel one another and as such the company could be made to pay civil compensation even where a criminal fine has already been imposed.
The question arises: how do the courts assess personal injuries, and what is the value of an arm, leg, finger or eye? The assessment is usually split into two heads: special damages, compensation for which can be specifically quantified and proven. e.g. hospital bills; and general damages, being compensation for things which cannot be specifically quantified, e.g. pain and suffering.
Generally, there are five considerations which a court would bear in mind when determining how much to award a victim for general damages: the nature and extent of the injury suffered; the nature and the gravity of the resulting physical injuries (e.g. resulting disability, or scarring); the pain and suffering endured; the loss of amenities (e.g. where a person is not able to enjoy activities like sports as they did before.); the extent to which the victim’s pecuniary prospects have been affected, (e.g. where the victim is no longer able to work as a result of injuries sustained or their employment possibilities have been hampered).
To put it in perspective, there was a picture circulated of a person who had received a severe injury to his foot, losing two toes, allegedly as a result of the quarry tragedy. Kathy Badenock v Coreas Hazells Inc. is a case from St. Vincent and the Grenadines where Ms. Badenock suffered a 2cm cut to her left great toe while browsing the defendant’s hardware store. The cut caused damage to the claimant’s tendon and a temporary reduction in her range of motion. Nevertheless, she managed to make a full recovery. The court awarded Ms. Badenock $17,000 for her injury. It goes without saying that the court would undoubtedly award more in a case where someone has lost two toes.
The considerations are a bit different when assessing the value of a life for the purposes of a wrongful death action. Obviously we’ve not heard the last of the quarry explosion in Saint Lucia.