Woman on Ferris wheel when it was hit by plane wins huge payout

Australian Associated Press
·3-min read

A young woman who was in a Ferris wheel when it was struck by a plane has been awarded $1.5 million in damages by a NSW court.

Amber Christine Arndell, then 13, and her brother were riding the 20-metre-high amusement at the annual Old Bar Beach Festival in October 2011 when a two-seat light plane took off at an adjacent airstrip.

The aircraft had attempted a landing before taking off again, veering left into the Ferris wheel.

The NSW Supreme Court this week found Mid-Coast Council and pilot Paul Clarendon Cox negligent for breaching their care to the woman.

"(Ms Arndell's) evidence makes clear that she was frightened the Ferris wheel was going to collapse; and/or the fuel from the plane would ignite; and that she and her brother would die," Justice Stephen Rothman said this week.

A plane crashed into a ferris wheel
An ultra-light plane crashed into a ferris wheel in 2011. Source: AAP

Mr Cox was ordered to cover 35 per cent of the $1.513 million in damages.

He failed in his lawsuit against the council despite the court accepting the pilot had suffered insomnia, flashbacks and other mental harm due to the crash.

His landing attempt that turned into touch-and-go "displayed a lack of due care and diligence", the judge said.

The court heard a council officer had examined the Ferris wheel after it was erected and raised no issues with its placement.

That was despite it intruding into the splay - a three-dimensional area meant to remain clear to allow aircraft to land and take off.

Two medical experts agreed Ms Arndell's experience of the collision was traumatic and had significant effects but were somewhat split on whether the trauma had been resolved and what effect earlier, traumatic events had on her recognised psychiatric illness.

An ultra-light plane crashed and lodged in a ferris wheel
Amber Christine Arndell, then 13, and her brother were riding the 20-metre-high amusement at a festival in 2011 when a light plane crashed into the ferris wheel. Source: AAP

The court heard the woman had ridden on another Ferris wheel after the crash.

She testified that occurred under pressure from her grandparents to face her problems and she was shaking and in tears during it.

She was unable to attend fairgrounds and ride on the Ferris wheel until 2017, when accompanied by her partner.

The judge concluded she had a pre-existing psychological vulnerability, went through a period of decompensation and developed a generalised anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder.

"The overwhelming cause of the plaintiff's incapacity is the trauma associated with the collision," he said.

a light plane crashed into a ferris wheel
Amber Christine was awarded slightly under $1.1 million for lost wages for the incident in 2011. Source: AAP

Her school reports had spoken of a hard-working and confident student until late 2011 and it wasn't unreasonable to expect that Ms Arndell would've completed high school and worked in the fashion industry, the judge said.

The collision had made that an "impossible task" and - while not fully restricting her enjoyment of life outside work - it was "clear that for all practical purposes, the plaintiff is unemployable," the judge said.

Ms Arndell, now 23, was awarded slightly under $1.1 million for lost wages - calculated at 80 per cent of average weekly payments, multiplied by 46 years.

Her non-economic loss was deemed to be worthy of a $412,200 payment.

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