The city of Revelstoke has been held liable 35 percent for the “catastrophic injuries” suffered by a firefighter from Surrey, BC when his head struck a tree stump while diving into a lake.
According to a BC Supreme Court decision published Jan. 13, Aaron Gelowitz, then 34, was staying at the Williamson Lake Park and Campground on July 28, 2015, when he dove into the lake and hit his head.
In the impact, he suffered a severe fracture to his C6 vertebra, with associated spinal cord injury. He then spent months in the hospital to heal from the injury.
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In the years that followed, Gelowitz filed a lawsuit saying he took reasonable precautions before entering the lake and while acknowledging he was 50 percent responsible for the injury, he claimed the City of Revelstoke’s joint liability.
He claimed the city should have put up signs saying the water was shallow and that diving can be dangerous because of “dangers underwater, such as rocks and submerged logs.”
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In response, the city said it was meeting its standard of care by installing appropriate and adequate “do not dive” and “swim at your own risk” signs along the lakeshore, which was a distance from where the injury occurred.
At the most, it said it could only see that it would be given five percent of the blame, with the rest being put on Gelowitz, or Geolowitz and Alpine Village.
The property from which Gelowitz dived is owned by Alpine Village, but the bottom of the lake is owned by the province of BC
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Ultimately, Gelowitz argued that, regardless of the fact that the city did not own the land, the city had a duty of care to park users to warn of hazards associated with the use of the park facilities, including hazards associated with water activities in the lake.
Throughout the decision, Judge Karen Horsman weighed evidence on everything from a raft located near the injury site to witnesses and signage to draw a conclusion about things like where Gelowitz dived from, what hit him, whether the city was negligent in failing to take reasonable steps to protect its safety and how the blame for the plaintiff’s loss should be apportioned.
When posting warnings, she felt the city should have done more.
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“I conclude that the city is a prima facie of care to the claimant – as an invitee to facilities owned and operated by the city – to warn him of the known risks associated with using the park facility, including a duty to warn of the risks of diving,” Judge Karen said to Hormans.
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What was her fault was something she also had to consider.
“(Gelowitz) was the person primarily responsible for his own safety. He has acknowledged that it was careless to dive into the lake based on a visual inspection of the water alone. He agrees he knew better. The claimant’s assumption that the water was deep enough for a safe shallow dive based on visual inspection alone was not reasonable. The plaintiff did not meet the standard of care required of him in the circumstances,” Judge Horsman said in the decision.
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“(At the same time, I don’t accept the city’s argument that its fault is in fact about the least. The city had a duty to warn parking users about the risks of diving. The city also more than met its standard of care, particularly with regard to the maintenance of warning signs on the raft. The city did not receive and follow specific risk management advice to paint and maintain ‘no diving’ signs on the raft.
“The city’s failure to follow that advice appears to be the result of poor planning of the workforce change. The costs for the city to meet its standard of care were minimal, while the risk of damage for park users was high.”
Judge Horsman thus rules that Gelowitz is 65 percent guilty and the city of Revelstoke 35 percent.
The verdict did not cover damages or costs.
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