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The Dreamworld tragedy: Some things can never be unseen

3 minute read

Personal injury

When you hear the word ‘injury’ it’s normal to imagine something physical – like a broken leg or bruised elbow. But have you ever heard the term ‘psychological injury’ and considered what one looks like? Have you contemplated the severe impacts it could have on your life? On October 25th, 2016, news broke around Australia and the globe that four people had been killed on a water ride at the Gold Coast theme park, Dreamworld. As news crews flocked to report the story live, nobody was prepared for the horrific details that soon emerged.

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Simulating the experience of white-water rafting, Thunder River Rapids was a popular ride for families and had been a staple attraction for more than 30 years; people ‘floated’ around a man-made water course in circular rafts, seating up to six people, all facing each other.

On the day of the accident, four adults and two children were travelling on the ride when it malfunctioned; their raft collided with another on a conveyor belt and flipped. Miraculously, the children were launched to safety, but the adults were caught upside down between the conveyor belt and the raft and killed almost instantly.

On what was considered a ‘low-thrill ride’, their deaths were unimaginable. This terrible accident sparked a long coronial inquest and fierce legal battles against the theme park; the grieving families were determined to get to the bottom of how this could have happened.

“A total and systematic failure”

were the words used by a NSW coroner as he delivered his findings about the tragedy.

In 2020, the NSW coroner found Dreamworld at fault, highlighting “frighteningly unsophisticated” safety systems, unqualified staff, and the absence of “holistic risk assessments” across 30 years. The inquest brought much-needed justice and restitution to the victim’s families, however many involved with the accident on that fateful day were left with deep psychological scars. With the inquest focusing mainly on the theme park’s lack of safety, there was less focus on the impact it had on first responders, including theme park staff, who were forced to watch and respond as the incident unfolded. What was seen could not be unseen, resulting in witnesses developing severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); they were blaming themselves and desperately trying to have their voices heard – our legal team listened. Led by Roger Singh, Shine ran multiple claims against Dreamworld on behalf of staff members and first responders who had been psychologically injured from the shocking event they had witnessed. It was clear they were suffering from PTSD. However, the opposition questioned their bid for compensation as a result of financial consequences, arguing these people could return to work if they really wanted to. For people who were now dealing with regular panic attacks, insomnia, and depression, this allegation was not only inaccurate but entirely unjust. One of our clients was a long-term Dreamworld employee – a self-proclaimed meet-and-greeter – he loved his job, was the ‘life of the party’ and cherished bringing joy and laughter to park visitors. He had never been faced with a scene of such terror.

“There were all sorts of triggers out of the blue for him, he was the primary breadwinner of the family, and he became unable to function in any kind of workplace. If that wasn’t enough, his children were taunted and bullied at school as if this disaster was his fault. The strain on his family, marriage and finances became unbearable and these days that fellow, the ‘life of the party’, rarely leaves his home.”

Roger Singh

Roger Singh and the Shine team successfully settled multiple claims against Dreamworld and brought nationwide media awareness to the impact and weight of PTSD. Our legal team stood firm alongside their clients, supporting, advising, and comforting them as they relived one of the most traumatic moments of their lives.

While no amount of money is enough to compensate anyone for the loss of a loved one, nor for the horrific scenes unwillingly witnessed, these successful claims vindicated our clients and their experiences. It’s no easy feat making a stand against a large corporation, but through bravery and the support of Shine, their psychological injuries were seen, and their voices were heard.

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