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Making coronial inquests more bearable for families

Coronial

Samantha Wood’s father-in-law Stephen Viner was killed in 2017 after receiving an electrical shock while performing maintenance work in the basement of a commercial property.

An initial coronial and Workplace Health and Safety investigation was unable to determine Mr Viner’s cause of death.

As a result, an inquest was held to determine the cause and circumstances of Mr Viner’s death, and for the Coroner to consider whether there were any recommendations that could be made to prevent a death from occurring in similar circumstances in the future.

Ms Wood’s family was referred to the Queensland Coronial Legal Service (QCLS) by the Office of Industrial Relations to help Ms Wood and other family members, including Mr Viner’s wife, Maria navigate the coronial process.

Ms Wood said that the most valuable aspect of the help her family received from the QCLS was giving them a voice.

“We felt as if our world had crumbled at our feet after the death, and the QCLS was always there to answer any question or concern,’’ Ms Woods said.

“The service’s assistance made our experience with the coronial inquest that bit more bearable, while we were trying to pick up the pieces left behind.”

QCLS staff and a pro bono barrister appeared in person to represent the family at the four-day inquest.

QCLS staff also worked with the family closely to explain the process, answering questions and making sure that support from a social worker was on offer.

“We would have had no choice but to represent ourselves during the inquest if we did not have a service like the QCLS, which would have been detrimental to our already declining mental health after such a traumatic experience,” Ms Woods said.

Being represented at the inquest allowed the family to have their questions put to witnesses and to explain to the Coroner their concerns and views about the evidence through submissions. As a result, the inquest examined issues raised by the family which would otherwise not have been identified.

“Without the QCLS our concerns would have never been raised during the inquest or investigation into the death of Steve, and we would have still been left with questions unanswered.”

Ms Wood said her family’s experience with the Coroner presiding over the inquest was positive and they were offered the breaks from proceedings as needed.

“As most people can appreciate, listening to witnesses, investigators and the forensic pathologist recount what they remember from the day of the death and scene was quite an emotional and exhausting time for our family.

“Our family just wanted answers, and the coronial inquest enabled us to receive those answers on how our loved one’s traumatic death occurred. When the Coroner handed down his findings on the 8th August 2019, we finally received the answers we knew all along, and the closure we desperately needed.”

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