May 30, 2014
Brisbane Times journalist
A Queensland man has been ordered to pay nearly $360,000 total compensation to three people who were badly burnt when a bonfire exploded during a birthday party.
The three young women suffered severe burns and ongoing psychological trauma after the incident, which occurred on Vito Sebastian Morello’s property near Stanthorpe on April 25, 2009.
The Queensland District Court heard that a 20th birthday party had been organised at Morello’s Kyoomba property when he instructed guests to sit near a bonfire.
Morello had earlier prepared the bonfire using stacks of timber, paint drums and 44-gallon drums. According to court documents, Morello filled bottles with fuel, which were allegedly thrown onto the bonfire by another person.
It caused an explosion and guests Monique Heeremans, Kyrie Sweeney and Lisa Cosmo suffered serious burns to their limbs.
The trio, who were aged between 18 and 20, needed to be hospitalised in a Brisbane burns unit, and Ms Heeremans and Ms Sweeney’s injuries were so bad that they needed to be inpatients for a month.
Doctors said the women required numerous skin grafts and suffered psychological problems after the explosion.
Four others were also injured, including one person who was in a coma for several days with burns to more than half his body.
Two cans of paint thinner were reportedly thrown onto the flames, causing a huge fireball to engulf everything nearby. The 50-person event descended into chaos as panicked party-goers tried to rescue their friends.
“It would have been 10 or 15 metres high, it was like a red cloud, a red glow, it wasn’t flames, it was like little particles. We felt a bit of air push past us, and then it was just so still,” a witness told The Warwick Daily News in 2009.
“No one knew what to do about burns like these. One boy was just asking me to get him out of there so we got him to the car and raced him in to the hospital.”
Ms Heeremans, Ms Sweeney and Ms Cosmo began civil action against Morello in 2011, but their compensation payout was only determined on Thursday.
The Queensland District Court heard one of the injured women still cried about 20 times a month about the incident, another had panic attacks which were triggered by sirens, and the other felt too uncomfortable to strike a match or light a candle and avoided going near gas barbeques.
Judge Brad Farr SC found Morello to have been negligent. He ordered Morello to pay damages of $149,178 to Ms Heeremans, $127,756 to Ms Cosmo and $82,692 to Ms Sweeney.
Source : The Brisbane Timea