Aspiring jockey Sophia Malthus paralysed at work says ex-boss' appeal 'extremely distasteful' after reparations cut by over $100,000

An Auckland woman left paralysed by a devastating horse-riding accident at work has addressed losing more than $100,000 in reparations, calling her former boss' move to appeal "extremely distasteful". 

Sophia Malthus was left a tetraplegic at just 19 years old in 2017 when a horse she was riding at work bolted. She was having her first ride on a racehorse as part of her training, although McKee had never seen her ride before.

Malthus was on her second lap around the training track when the horse bolted and she fell. Her dream was to be a jockey but the major spinal cord injury caused by the accident - breaking the C5 vertebrae - has crushed hopes of riding professionally.  

Her employer at the time, Stephen McKee, was ordered to pay $372,000 in reparations last year after being found liable because he knew the risks associated with the industry, having been a horse trainer for 31 years. It was ruled there was also a lack of formal training in place.   

He appealed his sentence because "the consequential loss was incorrectly calculated" and "the reparation should have been reduced to allow for Malthus entitlement to a lump sum payment", according to a High Court decision.

Malthus and her family feel the move by her ex-boss to appeal the sentence wasn't surprising, believing McKee's operation has often been to "the detriment of his employees". 

"We find it extremely distasteful that a trainer who pleads guilty to this sort of charge, then appeals the reparation with QC being paid rather than Sophia," said a statement on Malthus' behalf, obtained by Newshub. 

"While we were grieving, he was covering his tracks." 

The initial judgement took into account Sophia's young age and considered New Zealand legislation gives her 80 percent of her income at the time of the accident, despite incurring many injury-related costs for the rest of her life. 

"This was claimed to be the minimum wage however the appeal was using deliberately misleading information relating to hours worked," the statement said. 

"Sophia was working on average 50 hours per week but getting paid for 37. Stephen would have known this because he is onsite daily and he makes the roster. 

"She was not in a position to correct this as the case was between Worksafe and Stephen McKee."

The spokesperson said Malthus is now putting the "hideous chapter" behind her.

She is now keen to improve current systems in place that she believes discriminate against young people with life-changing injuries and "imprisons them to a life of poverty where they are prevented from contributing to society".

In the High Court decision made public last week, Justice Grant Powell ordered reparation costs be adjusted to $266,000 after McKee’s appeal was reduced by $106,000.

"Mr McKee had never seen Ms Malthus ride and understood that she had the experience to ride this horse having done the course. She fell from the horse and sustained serious spinal damage, which unfortunately has left her tetraplegic with limited use of her arms and hands," Justice Powell said in the judgement.

He said Malthus' earnings were "incorrectly calculated" which resulted in a "manifestly excessive sentence".

"While Judge Sainsbury's [original judge] conclusion is readily understood in terms of the dreadful injury suffered by Ms Malthus and the obvious effect that this will have on the future earning capacity for one so young, it does not satisfactorily explain why the loss suffered by Ms Malthus is ostensibly able to be increased with reference to the calculation of weekly compensation under the Accident Compensation Act."

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