Fine for Luton plane company after female worker left in a coma

Court
Court

The company that handles private jet flights for the rich and famous was today ordered to pay a quarter of a million pounds after a worker was left in a persistent vegetative state.

Suzi Dorbon, 47, was employed as an aircraft mover by Signature Flight Support at Luton Airport.

On the evening of Tuesday 28 April 2015 she was crushed when she became trapped between two sections of mechanically operated doors at Hangar 219.

St Albans crown court heard the crushing injuries were so severe that they caused brain damage that has left her in a coma. She is currently at the Marbrook Centre in St Neots, where her husband Mick visits her every day.

Suzy, who was extremely fit, walked eight miles to work every day from the home she shared with Mick in Barton-Le-Clay. He has given up his job at the airport to be her carer.

Sentencing the company, Judge Andrew Bright QC said: “I have heard the very moving Victim Personal Statement of Michael Dorbon in which he sets out the appalling consequences of the injuries his wife suffered and the life-changing effect that her on-going condition has had and continues to have upon him, her parents and their friends and family.

“No punishment I can impose can ever make up for the dreadful human tragedy which this case represents.”

Prosecutor Catherine Rabaiotti told the court that Hangar 219 became operational in April 2014 and was fitted with two mechanically operated doors, each of which had three solid ‘leaves’ which could be moved horizontally along tracks using a hand-held control panel.

Signature provided short training sessions to staff, including Mrs Dorbon, on how to open and close the doors and issued a guidance document warning employees to take care to avoid any crush hazard.

But the formal Risk Assessment Document prepared at or about the same time, failed to identify the risk of being crushed by the doors or any steps which needed to be taken to mitigate the risk.

The judge said: “In particular, staff were not told of a specific distance to stand back from the doors when operating them nor were they provided with any follow-up or refresher training.”

He said after the initial training, Signature took no steps to monitor or supervise the way staff were opening and closing the doors. “Had the defendant done so, it would soon become apparent that the way in which some employees were moving the doors were unsafe and that the staff needed to be provided with further training and instruction to prevent unsafe methods of work from becoming common place.”

After Mrs Dorbon was crushed, the company painted yellow lines on the floor to show workers how far to stand back from the doors. Also, new warning signage was put up, a new manual on hangar door operations was introduced, staff were re-trained and there were regular CCTV reviews to monitor how the doors were being operated.

Judge Bright said: “In my view, the prosecution are correct in contending that all these steps could and should have been taken when the doors were first installed. They were simple, inexpensive and reasonably practicable measures which would have prevented the risk which resulted in catastrophic injuries to Suzi Dorbon.”

The company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of work of employees between 28 March 2014 and 28 April 2015.

Defending, Malcolm Galloway said the company pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and has a good health and safety record.

The judge fined Signature Flight Support £250,000 and ordered the company to pay £19,483.50 prosecution costs within 28 days.

After the hearing, Tristan Holdom, of Tollers Personal Injury Solicitors, who is representing the family said: “I will start civil proceedings in the High Court if Signature do not now concede liability. So far the company has only helped with travelling expenses.

“Mick just wants to be able to take Suzy home with a proper care package set up.

“He is visiting her every day at the unit. If she is transferred home, we hope that in time she might come out of the coma.”