THE decision to let 12-year-old Jake Garrett-Pratt ride a modified ride-on lawn mower on their steep rural property near Gympie could be deemed "unsound", counsel assisting the coroner has submitted to an inquest.

But Peter De Waard said this finding did not mean the coroner should refer Jake's mother and stepfather to be prosecuted for their son's subsequent death.

Mr De Waard said Jake's stepfather Michael Taiareo and his mother Helen Garrett had already paid the ultimate price for their decision that day.

"I cannot begin to contemplate how hard it would be to loose a child," he said.

He told Brisbane Coroner John Lock they let the boy to drive the modified ride-on mower around their rural property for "enjoyment purposes" on March 6 last year.

He said "the reality" was that allowing kids to drive machinery such as ride-on mowers on rural properties was likely to be common practice in Queensland.

Jake Garrett-Pratt
Jake Garrett-Pratt Contributed

Mr De Waard said Jake was above average in height and weight but he was not wearing a helmet.

"Although Jake's driving experience on motorbikes and bicycles would have been useful, those vehicles are still quite different to ride-on lawn mowers," he said.

"The ride-on mower was being used for a purpose for which it was not intended.

"The ride-on mower user manual does not appear to have been consulted.

"It should have been obvious just by looking at the ride-on mower that it was likely to be in poor mechanical condition."

Mr De Waard said no inquiries were made about the previous servicing and maintenance regime, nor was a safety or mechanical inspection carried out, before allowing Jake to drive it.

"Jake's mother had told him not to drive down the steeper of the two driveways," he said.

"But it is my submission, it was unrealistic to expect a 12-year-old child to follow instructions not to drive the ride-on mower down the steeper of the two driveways, given that Jake was unsupervised and had been known to drive down the steeper driveway on his motorbike."

Jake bought the Greenfields 11-horsepower ride-on mower - with the cutter deck removed - from his friend for $150 just eight days before he crashed on the Upper Kandanga property.

He and his stepfather had done minor repairs to the steering arm and the carburettor piping before he rode it, but Mr De Waard submitted those modifications did not contribute to Jake's death. 

Jake was driving the ride-on mower down the steeper of the two driveways at the property about 4.30pm when he lost control of the mower and careered down the hill through a four-strand barbed wire fence, tumbling into the neighbour's paddock.

A helicopter rushed him to the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane but his head injuries could not be stabilised.

He died on March 18.

Police investigations revealed the ride-on mower would have been uncontrollable because the rear axle drive chain had broken due to poor maintenance.

Mr De Waard said the mower's user manual instructed owners to remove the drive chain once a year, thoroughly clean and lubricate it, or to replace if worn.

"Had the maintenance and operating instructions been read and followed, it is my submission that this incident may not have occurred," he said.

But Mr De Waard conceded these ride-on mowers were manufactured between 1980 and 1986, that relevant Australian Standards did not exist until 1990.

He recommended the coroner consider making recommendations surrounding the user manual for ride-on mowers, Australian Standard requirements and other safety modifications.

"However, it is highly unlikely that any measure introduced to prevent people from using ride-on mowers for non-mowing purposes would be successful, especially on rural properties," he said.

"Therefore, consideration should be given to ways in which people can be encouraged to do so safely."

Mr De Waard said there was no suggestion Jake was racing the ride-on mower before his death.

But he said mower racing appeared to be an increasingly popular sport and submitted the Queensland Ride-On Mower Racing Association could play a role in spreading the safety message.

"Mower racing organisations appear to recognise that simply removing a cutter deck from a mower is not enough to make a mower safe for non-mowing purposes," he said.

Additional modifications that should be made include:

  • Lowering the mowers for stability and handling.
  • Using clip-on products similar to that used around car door edges for exposed edges of the ride-on mower.
  • A 'kill switch' with a lanyard to attach to the body of the driver so that if the mower rolls or the driver is separated from the mower, the engine stops.
  • Inserting disc or drum brakes instead of relying on hand brake or gear breaking to ensure the rear wheels don't lock up when the brakes are applied.
  • A more securely mounted seat.
  • Regular safety checks should be conducted and drivers should wear safety gear.

Jake's father Cameron Pratt, who had driven from the Sunshine Coast for the Brisbane court hearing, asked the coroner to take into account the duty of care for parents to ensure their children were wearing helmets.

Outside court, he said he hoped other parents would learn this lesson so they did not have to go through what he had.

"My personal belief is that if he was wearing a helmet he may be still here with us today," he said.

"Accidents do happen but we can prevent them by wearing safety equipment.

"Jake was a loveable, beautiful child and I miss him very much."

The coroner will hand down his findings on Friday.

Cameron Pratt (green shirt), father of Jake Garrett-Pratt, leaves Brisbane Magistrates Court.
Cameron Pratt (green shirt), father of Jake Garrett-Pratt, leaves Brisbane Magistrates Court. Rae Wilson

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