Austrian Coach Crash Case Study

Coach collision appeal upholds original sentence

18.01.2006

The Court of Appeal in Linz, Austria has upheld the original sentence of a mini-bus driver who caused the death of 5 British holidaymakers and injured many more.

The accident occurred on 10th August 2004 in Hallein, near Salzburg in Austria, when the 70-year-old driver, Johan Prettenthaler, attempted to overtake a coach carrying 42 British tourists. The mini-bus collided with the coach, which left the road and crashed down an embankment.

Mr Prettenthaler was found guilty of causing the death of five people and injuring 40 others and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for three years and was fined 3,600 Euros.

The Appeal Court has upheld the original decision by the lower Court and dismissed appeals by both the Defendant who claimed the sentence was too harsh, and the State Prosecutor who claimed the original sentence was too lenient.

Coach collision solicitors

Clive Garner, Partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, who is acting for many of the victims of the accident, says: "Nothing can turn back the clock and prevent the suffering which has been caused to my clients or bring back loved ones who they lost in this tragedy. Many of my clients consider that sending a 70-year-old man to prison in these circumstances is futile while everyone agrees that it is more important that lessons are learned from this tragedy to prevent similar incidents happening in the future. Although criminal proceedings are now at an end, we are continuing with civil claims for compensation for the injured and bereaved."

Full details of the appeal have just been made public:

The initial sentence against Mr Prettenthaler was:

  1. a 12 month prison sentence suspended for three years.
  2. a fine in the sum of 360 units (one unit being ‚¬10). Hence the overall fine was ‚¬3,600.

The public prosecutor appealed for a higher sentence and against the conversion of part of the prison sentence into a fine.

Mr Prettenthaler appealed for a lower sentence.

Decision of the Court of Appeal:

  1. Both Applications were rejected.
  2. Mr Prettenthaler was ordered to pay for the costs of the Appeal.

The Court considered the following arguments in favour of a lower sentence:

  • Mr Prettenthaler had no previous convictions.
  • Mr Prettenthaler confessed liability straight away.

The court considered the following arguments in favour of a higher sentence:

  • The accident had caused the death of 5 people
  • Several people were also (badly) injured

The court also held the following:

  • There was no contributory negligence on behalf of the driver of the coach (supported by Mr Faulhaber's statement and the expert's report)
  • There was no reduced capacity on behalf of the offender because he suffers from high blood pressure (Mr Prettenthaler took medication against his blood pressure and was therefore not impaired in his ability to drive)
  • There was no contributory negligence on behalf of those passengers who did not wear seatbelts.
  • It was irrelevant that the public prosecutor also argued that the technical requirements of the coach might not have all been complied with.

"Finding of the Court of Appeal:

  • The Court of First Instance decided correctly in that it considered the above arguments and reached the decision of a 1 year prison sentence suspended for three years and a fine of ‚¬3,600. (The actual sentence given was half that of the maximum sentence for this type of crime). Sentence upheld.
  • The above grounds did not justify a higher or different sentence or to insist on a prison sentence alone.
  • ‚¬10 per units reflected the personal financial situation of the offender. Hence, the original fine of EUR 3600 was upheld."

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