Rigby Cooke recently acted for a client in a NSW Supreme Court
case which clearly defined the Chain of Responsibility laws that
relate to consignors and loaders of goods.
This case involved a heavy vehicle carrying scrap metal which
struck the M5 tunnel in Sydney causing major damage to the
infrastructure, resulting in the tunnel being shut down for 16
hours and causing massive traffic delays.
Our client loaded the vehicle and a scrap metal supplier was the
consignor. Both were found to have breached the load requirements
of the Road Transport (General) Act 2005 (NSW). Fines were imposed
and each were ordered to pay a significant sum in compensation to
the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for the considerable
damage caused to the tunnel.
The scrap metal supplier's business is metal recycling and
resource recovery in Australia and it regularly purchases scrap
steel from various recyclers. It engages heavy vehicle operators to
collect and deliver scrap metal on its behalf. Our client is in the
business of excavation, landscaping, waste management and the sale
of recyclable scrap steel.
On 31 October 2012, the metal supplier engaged a local heavy
vehicle operator to collect scrap metal from our client's
premises and deliver it to the metal supplier's premises.
Our client loaded the scrap metal onto the vehicle in the usual
way. The driver visually inspected the load, but did not measure
the height. The load was not secured or covered when it left the
premises. The combination then left the premises and travelled on
the M5 towards the east tunnel, which had over-height warning
lights and signs leading up to and at the tunnel entrance. The
driver denied seeing the warning signs. When the driver entered the
tunnel, part of the load struck a steel beam which caused the
combination to become stuck. The steel beam was set at a height
between 4.68 and 4.7 metres and located 10 metres inside the
tunnel. The combination and the load were 4.97 metres high.
The RMS initiated proceedings and submitted that the metal
supplier as consignor and our client as the loader breached
provisions of the predecessor to the Heavy Vehicle National Law,
the Road Transport (General) Act 2005 (NSW)
Lessons to learn
Although the supplier and our client had rules and loading
protocols in place, the Court found that they should have had:
Some form of a measuring device, such as a beam at the exit of
our client's premises, which would allow drivers to know if the
load of the vehicle is too high;
A method to ensure that the consignment is covered, to avoid
dislodgement of materials once on the road; and
A method for ensuring that consignments are properly
Neither the supplier nor our client had previously breached the
Act and were both proactive in implementing new protocols after the
incident. This is reflected in the fines imposed by the Court.
This case highlights the fact that the concept of a Chain of
Responsibility under the Heavy Vehicle National Law is gathering
serious momentum across the country. Businesses in the transport
industry and intermediaries involved in transporting consignments
by road need to ensure that their procedures for loading and
securing goods will not lead to any breaches of the
As this case demonstrates, there are serious consequences for
any breaches that may occur, which is why it is essential that you
are informed and protected.
This decision will be significant to aviation industry participants in assessing whether claimants in the context of international or domestic carriage by air have commenced claims in an appropriate forum in Australia.
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