July 26, 2014

The full financial consequences of youthful exuberance have begun to emerge for a Stanthorpe man whose carelessness seriously injured five party guests, changing their lives forever.
Vito Morello has been ordered to pay $360k to three of the victims at an Anzac Day birthday bash he threw for a 20yr old friend at his Kyoomba farm, south of Stanthorpe, in 2009. He had stacked a bonfire from timber, paint drums and several “44-gallon drums” which reportedly contained agricultural chemical residue.

Around 8.00pm, Vito brought the party out to the bonfire which had been lit hours earlier by igniting fuel in bottles that were then thrown onto to the stack. Sometime after the partiers assembled around the flames, a drum was thrown in by another guest, suddenly exploded and its scalding hot contents spewed over close-by revellers, burning their heads and bodies.

The five were ambulance to Stanthorpe Hospital for pain relief and initial assessment before being airlifted by helicopter to RBH and rushed into the burns unit. They had typically been standing with their back to the bonfire or side on. The burns and resulting scarring reflected their relevant positions in relation to the inferno.

Further burns were sustained in some cases, from clothing bursting into flames. Three of the victims – Monique Heeremans, 18, Kyrie Sweeney, 20, and Lisa Cosmo, 20 – who filed injury compensation proceedings in December 2011, have now been awarded their damages in Brisbane’s District Court, 5 years after the tragedy.

Morello was not represented at the trial, indicating that the public liability insurer of his property refused to extend insurance cover, presumably because of the nature of the activity or the manner in which it was conducted.

All three young women were found to have had extensive skin graft surgery, hospitalisation for over a month, permanent scarring over multiple sites, severe and ongoing emotional difficulties, personality changes and problems with employment and relationships.

Despite that and each being ruled to have suffered a 20% – 30% “whole person impairment”, general damages for the pain and scarring etc were assessed at just $20k – $30k each. But Judge Brett Farr SC also concluded the future earning capacity of all three has been adversely affected, causing them to likely earn less over their future working lives.

He ordered Morello to pay a total of $149k to Heeremans, $83k to Sweeney and $128k to Cosmo, with their costs potentially totalling up to $100k in addition. The other victims, Jed Benussi and Tony Di Bella are believed to have more extensive injuries and their claims, filed in April 2012, are yet to be brought before the court for assessment.

It is not known if Morello has the means to satisfy the orders. He has been described in the proceedings as “impecunious” and notified his intention to declare bankruptcy. He did not dispute liability or the extent of injuries and co-operated to allow claims to be concluded swiftly.

If they can’t recover the judgment sums from Morello himself, the victims have the option of contesting the insurance denial, directly with his public liability insurer.

Heeremans v Morello; Sweeney v Morello; Cosmo v Morello [2014] QDC 121 Farr SC DCJ 29/05/2014

Categories: Personal Injury , Litigation & Law Practice

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