Court of Appeal allows plaintiff’s appeal due to ‘improper conduct’ of solicitor for Perisher Blue

 

Mr Day was injured whilst operating a J-Bar in the ski fields at Guthega. Mr Day was allegedly struck by an errant skier in the course of his employment as a consequence of his then employer, Perisher Blue Pty Ltd (Perisher Blue), breaching its duty of care to Day by failing to provide a safe system of work. 

In its judgment, the NSW Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the District Court in favour of the defendant. The main ground for the decision related to the conduct of Perisher’s solicitors and its witnesses prior to trial and ultimately referred the matter to the Legal Services Commissioner.

During the course of the trial, it emerged that the witnesses for Perisher Blue, prior to the trial, had communications with each other, including the solicitors for Perisher Blue, with respect to the form and content of the evidence they were to give the Court.

During the course of cross-examination, Perisher Blue’s witness, Mr Laing conceded that he had discussed his evidence with four of Perisher Blue’s other witnesses and one witness told him when the incident occurred.

Also during the course of cross-examination it became apparent that Perisher Blue had written to their witnesses directing the witnesses to be familiar with the other witness statements and Perisher Blue had held conferences with witnesses where the solicitors for Perisher Blue engaged in so called ‘coaching of their witnesses’. 

After the plaintiff, Mr Day had closed his case, Mr Laing, the defendant’s first witness was called and the following took place in cross-examination with the barrister for Mr Day, Michael McAuley:

“Q. Have you refreshed your memory before giving evidence today? A. I have read over the statements that I gave, yes.

Q. Have they helped you to remember? A. Yes. Yes, they have.

Q. Are you giving evidence now based on your own recollection and based on what you read of those statements? A. Yes, I am.

Q. Have you those statements with you? A. No, I do not.

Q. Where are the statements? A. They’re in my hotel room.

Q. Where’s your hotel room? A. Across the road.

Q. Would you be able to bring those statements back to the court at 2 o’clock? A. Yes, I believe I could

LUNCHEON ADJOURNMENT

McAULEY: Q. So, Mr Laing, were you able to find those documents over the lunch? A. Yes, I was, sir.

Q. Could you just hand those to the court officer. I seek access to them, your Honour.

HIS HONOUR: Yes, I give you access to them.

McAULEY: Thank you, your Honour.

Q. Did you read each of these documents? A. Yes, I did.

I’m sorry, your Honour, I didn’t realise.

HIS HONOUR: Yes, Mr McAuley.

McAULEY: Q. Your evidence is based on each of those documents? A. Yes, it is.

Q. You’ve refreshed your memory from them. A. Yes, I have.

The Court allowed Mr Day’s appeal, ordered a retrial and that Perisher Blue pay Mr Day’s costs.  The Court also referred the matter to the Legal Services Commissioner to investigate the conduct of Perisher Blue’s solicitors.

In coming to their decision, the Judges stated the following:

“It is long been regarded as proper practice for legal practitioners to take proofs of evidence from witnesses separately and to encourage witnesses not to discuss their evidence with others and particularly not with other potential witnesses. For various reasons, witnesses do not always abide by those instructions and their credibility suffers accordingly. What was done was improper.”

The decision of Day v Perisher Blue Pty Ltd [2005] NSWCA 110 can be read in full here: https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/549fbaa43004262463b9d036 

Bernard McAuley

McAuley Hawach Lawyers

11 Fennell Street, Parramatta NSW 2124

Telephone: (02) 9633 1826

Facsimile: (02) 9687 8114 (02) 9687 8114

Web: www.mcauleyhawach.com.au

Email: reception@mcauleyhawach.com.au

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