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Southland rural contractor sued by Irish court for nearly $6m over catastrophic 2015 accident

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Irish seasonal worker Padraig Lowry lost his arm in a 2015 accident with a combine harvester, similar to the one pictured. Photo / David Hill

An Irish seasonal farm worker whose arm was severed by a combine harvester on a Southland farm has been awarded nearly $6m by a court in Ireland.

However, his then-boss says he will review the Irish court decision claiming that the farm worker earlier accepted responsibility for the incident and did not wish any action to be taken.

Padraig Lowry was 21 years old when his arm was amputated to four inches below his right elbow after the incident while working on a farm in Dipton, Southland in 2015, the Irish Independent reports.

As a result of his injuries, Lowry later sued D. Thompson Contracting Ltd and its director, Daryl Thompson.

The outlet reported Lowry earlier told the Irish High Court that on the evening of the incident, he was trying to deal with an oats blockage in the combine harvester chute when his arm was sucked in.

“It just went with my hand and there were four dull bangs. When I took my arm back all I could see was blood.”

Lowry, who was employed by D Thompson Contracting Limited, told Irish High Court Justice Leonie Reynolds the scene was “like something you could see in a horror movie”, according to the Irish Independent.

He claimed five hours after the incident and he had been taken to hospital, the harvester was released to continue work on the farm, the Irish Independent reported.

“There were bits of my skin and bones in the cylinder and they finished the job the next morning with my bodily parts still here, and all that went into a pit and was going to be fed to cattle”, he told Justice Reynolds.

The Irish Examiner reports Lowry has now been awarded nearly $6m by the Irish High Court.

Justice Reynolds said Lowry was left with “a permanent disability” and would require ongoing medical care.

“His ability to carry out his farming duties has been curtailed and he requires specialised machinery to carry out heavy-duty activities. His quality of life has been significantly impaired and he has been precluded from returning to many of his pre-accident recreational activities,” the Irish Examiner reported.

Lowry’s solicitor is now seeking to have the judgment enforced in New Zealand, the Irish Independent reported.

On Friday, the company’s director, Daryl Thompson, told the Herald an investigation by WorkSafe in to the incident found no evidence to suggest D. Thompson Contracting was at fault.

Thompson said what happened to Lowry was a “tragic accident”. “We recognise the life-changing impact this had.”

The company would be examining the judgment by the High Court in Ireland and its implications, Thompson said.

“The [WorkSafe] inquiry concluded Padraig received an induction on the general health and safety policy, hazard register, safety procedures, and a copy of the operators’ manual for the harvester. It also found Padraig failed to follow the operator’s manual or our health and safety policy,” he said.

“The investigation stated Padraig accepted responsibility for reaching into the chopper of the harvester, when he was aware that it was still winding down and that he did not wish any action to be taken against the company as he believed that he was trained and competent in the operation of the harvester and was aware of the company policy and procedures.”

Thompson said the investigation was also clear that it was difficult to identify any additional practicable steps that the company could have taken to avoid the accident.

“Our thoughts are with him and his family.”

Auckland University of Technology law professor Kris Gledhill told the Herald that enforcing foreign judgments was not uncommon, and most civil litigation firms would have expertise in it. However, there were some complexities in the law, particularly for Ireland.

“There is a statutory process allowing Australian judgments to be enforced in New Zealand; a separate process under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act 1934 covers the UK and various other countries, but not Ireland; and there is a third process under the Senior Courts Act 2016 that covers Commonwealth countries.”

This left the common law which required a fresh legal action to be launched in New Zealand to “enforce the overseas judgment as a debt”.

“But it is at that stage that all sorts of issues might arise – eg, what is the implication of our ACC legislation, were the New Zealand defendants properly under the jurisdiction of the Irish courts and was the trial fair? In short, it will be necessary to examine closely the Irish judgment and the processes followed there.”

Sam Sherwood is a senior journalist for the New Zealand Herald, with a focus on crime.

Ben Tomsett is a multimedia journalist for the New Zealand Herald, based in Dunedin.

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