The City of Revelstoke, B.C., has been found 35% contributorily negligent for not adhering to a recommendation contained in a 2011 risk management audit, which advised to maintain painted ‘No diving’ signs on a raft in Williamson Lake Park.
“The city received, and failed to follow, specific risk management advice that ‘no diving’ signs be painted and maintained on the raft,” Supreme Court of B.C. Justice Karen Horsman wrote in a decision released Jan. 13. “The city’s failure to follow that advice appears to have been the result of poor staff transition planning….
“The city…failed to follow, or even track, its own risk management advice over a period of several years. Ms. [Laurie] Donato, through no fault of her own, was not made aware of the existence of the 2011 Risk Control Survey when she assumed the role of the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture in 2012. Given the magnitude of the potential harm to park users that the recommendations in the Risk Control Survey were intended to address, the city’s departure from its standard of care was a serious one.”
Aaron Gelowitz, suffered catastrophic injuries when he struck his head on a hard object as he dove into Williamson Lake. As a result of the accident, he suffered a severe burst fracture of his C6 vertebra, leading to a serious spinal cord injury. He was found to be 65% at fault for the accident.
Gelowitz and his family were camping at the Williamson Lake Park and Campground. The city was responsible for placing aquatic safety signage along the waterfront by the park.
On the day of the accident, July 28, 2015, Gelowitz, a 34-year-old firefighter, swam across the lake from the park to the eastern shore, stopping along the way at a floating swimming raft approximately mid-point in the lake. Upon arriving at eastern shore, he dove into the lake from a rock on the shore.
Before his dive, Gelowitz had looked at the water and assumed it was deep enough to permit a shallow dive. He maintained in court that up to the point of his dive, he had seen no signs warning swimmers against diving into the lake, including any on the raft.
The City of Revelstoke argued it should be found only 5% at fault. But the court took the municipality to task for failing to heed safety recommendations contained in a 2011 risk audit.
In September 2011, the Municipal Insurance Association of BC arranged for a safety audit of facilities at the park, as well as various other recreational facilities in the area. The purpose of the review included identifying liability exposures, and assisting the local government in risk management to minimize the exposure. The recommendations in the audit report, entitled Risk Control Survey, included painting “no diving” signs on the dock and the raft. The rationale for the recommendation was stated as follows:
“Injuries may occur to the diver or swimmers as a result of diving off structures. There may be unforeseen obstacles in the water.”
The city did paint white “no diving” signs on the dock and the raft in the spring of 2012, as per the recommendations in the audit. But the court found no evidence the raft’s “no diving” sign had been repainted between 2012 and July 2015, when Gelowitz was injured. The sign had been repainted in 2016, after the injury had occurred.
Feature photo courtesy of iStock.com/Sonia Schiefer