January 21, 2022 – 07:30
The town of Revelstoke has been held partly responsible after a Surrey firefighter dove into a lake and suffered catastrophic injuries.
British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Karen Horsman ruled the city was 35% responsible for the accident, even though the rock from which firefighter Aaron Gelowitz plunged into the lake was on a private land.
The case dates back to 2015, when Gelowitz was on a camping vacation with his family and a few friends at the city-owned Williamson Lake Park and Campground in Revelstoke.
According to the Supreme Court of British Columbia’s decision, the campground, which is owned by the City, is located on the edge of the lake.
One day, Gelowitz decided to swim across the small lake and to the other shore. He then dove headfirst into the lake and hit something. The water was dark and although Gelowitz made a “shallow dive”, he struck an object underwater, possibly a submerged log. He was rushed to hospital in Revelstoke before finally being airlifted to Vancouver where he spent months in hospital with a spinal cord injury.
Gelowitz then sued the city of Revelstoke arguing that the city was negligent for not having a sign telling people not to dive into the lake due to underwater dangers.
He admitted that he was at fault 50%, but alleged that the City was also at fault at 50%.
Gelowitz originally named the alpine village of Revelstoke in the civil suit because the company owns the land on the east shore where it plunged into the lake. The ruling says he has reached a settlement with the company.
Court documents indicate that the land is undeveloped, wooded and vacant.
The city of Revelstoke argued that it had no duty of care to Gelowitz to warn him of the dangers of diving off land that did not belong to him.
However, the judge disagreed, saying the town was making it easier to get to the east side by keeping a raft in the middle of the small lake, and was well aware that people were jumping off rocks on the east side. .
Gelowitz had stopped at the raft while swimming across the lake.
“It was reasonably foreseeable that such hazards could be present on the East Rim, which is an area that park users, to the knowledge of the City, regularly traveled to. The actual injury sustained by (Gelowitz) while diving from the east shore was, therefore, a foreseeable consequence of the City’s breach of the standard of care by failing to have visible signs warning not to dive at the (Gelowitz) point of entry into the lake and onto the raft.”
According to the decision, a sign had been painted on the quay in 2012 in accordance with a safety audit of the campsite’s facilities.
The ruling says there was no evidence the signs were repainted after this, and Gelowitz had entered the lake through a different entry point anyway and therefore would not have seen the “no sign” sign. to dive” painted on the quay or another panel installed by the main beach.
The sign painted on the dock in 2012 was no longer visible in 2015 and several witnesses said they did not see any sign on the raft on the day of the incident.
The 21,000-word long decision includes testimony from several expert witnesses in areas ranging from risk management to water-related injury specialists.
While the consensus with experts is that the City should have signs that warn users of the risk of diving, they disagree on what was required of the City in the design and placement of the signs in this case. .
The judge then assessed the guilt of both parties.
“(Gelowitz) was the person primarily responsible for his own safety. He admitted that it was unwise to dive into the lake based solely on a visual inspection of the water. He agrees that he knew better. Plaintiff’s assumption that the water was deep enough for safe shallow diving based on visual inspection alone was not reasonable Plaintiff fell far short of the standard of care required of him in the circumstances,” Judge Horsman said in the decision. “At the same time…the City had an obligation to warn park users of the diving hazards. The City has also fallen far short of its standard of care, particularly in maintaining the warning signs on the raft. The town received and did not follow specific risk management advice that ‘no diving’ signs should be painted and maintained on the raft…the cost to the town of meeting its standard of care was minimal , while the risk of harm to park users was serious.”
With that, Judge Horsman finds Gelowitz 65% liable and the City of Revelstoke 35%. The judgment did not specify damages or costs.
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