LIABILITY FINDING IN CALGARY LRT ASSAULT A ‘WAKE-UP CALL’ FOR CITIES
(originally posted at AdvocateDaily.com) A recent ruling that found the City of Calgary liable because it failed in its duty to protect a young man from an assault at an LRT station is a “wake-up call” to all provincial municipalities and transit agencies, says Kamloops personal injury lawyer Matt Ford.
The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta decision that came 11 years after a 2007 New Year’s Day assault, raises new concerns around public liability in personal injury cases, he tells AdvocateDaily.com. According to media reports, the victim was beaten unconscious by one assailant, and others joined in the melee, kicking him while he lay on the ground. He suffered a severe concussion, broken orbital bones, and multiple fractures to his face. His cheeks and lower left lip were cut and required 40 stitches, his eye was badly bruised, and several teeth were damaged. Two assailants were convicted: one, a known violent repeat offender who instigated the attack and was given a one-year open custody term, and another who received a 45-day closed custody sentence, says Ford, a partner with Cates Ford Soll & Epp LLP. “This was not just a brief encounter — the man was attacked by a gang of teenage thugs while his girlfriend screamed in horror,” he says. “It went on for 20 minutes, and no one from the transit authority responded or called security to assist him despite the fact that there were surveillance cameras and those images were ostensibly being monitored. This is where the court found liability.” First, the court had to determine if the City of Calgary was “an occupier under the Occupier’s Liability Act and if so, what was the standard of care owed to the victim to ensure he was reasonably safe in his use of the premises,” Ford says. Having found the City of Calgary was, in fact, an occupier under the Act, and that the victim, 18 at the time, had a right to be there to pick up a friend at the LRT station, the court then turned to what the reasonable expectation of security would have been, Ford says. “There were cameras, and they were monitored,” he says. “But the issue was there was an insufficient number of people monitoring the cameras, and the video was of poor quality, which resulted in no one detecting the attack. The assault went on for 20 minutes, and both the security and monitoring personnel failed to respond or assist.” Had it been a bar fight that was over in a couple of minutes, Ford says there would have been little an owner or manager could have done to prevent or stop it immediately. The difference in this situation was the amount of time the assault went on for, and the fact there were surveillance cameras and monitoring in place, but neither was used properly, he adds. “The city recognized it had a duty of care because it installed 25 cameras in the area and arranged monitoring,” Ford says. “However, the video was of such poor quality, and those feeds were part of a system of 332 cameras where two employees were assigned to watch 42 monitors, rotating every three to four seconds.” Also, the fact it was New Year’s Day should have prompted the city to ensure extra security, but only two officers were patrolling the entire C-Train line instead of the usual 12, the court held. The man initially sued for $150,000 plus $4,602.73 in lost income and expenses in 2008, but the court has opened the door to discuss additional costs, according to media reports. The incident has repercussions across Canada, Ford says, noting the court heard expert testimony from an environmental criminologist. “He was an expert in crime reduction through design,” Ford says, adding he outlined what steps agencies must take in designing safe public areas. “Every similar agency that falls under its own provincial version of the Occupier’s Liability Act should review their security infrastructure to ensure not just that they have cameras in place, but also that the resolution quality of those cameras is adequate, and that panic buttons, monitoring arrangements, sight lines and lighting are appropriate,” he says.