A recent bicycle accident (Monday, June 12, 2017) in Brampton’s Chinguacousy Park presents an obvious lesson that Einstein’s definition of insanity was correct. Those who stubbornly repeat errors of the past and expect different results are likely to be genuinely insane.
A seventeen year old girl lost control of her bicycle while riding off-road in a City Owned recreation area. The girl and her friends were reported to be riding their bicycles downhill on the steep incline of Brampton’s Mount Chinquacousy.
Mount Chinquacousy is a twenty-one meter mound that was erected from soil excavated during home construction in Brampton’s satellite community; Bramalea.
The ski run of about 175 meters has provided an early exposure to downhill skiing for ski and snow board novices for generations.
The site also includes a nearby BMX bicycle facility. Thus, someone in the recreation department anticipated catering to bicycle enthusiasts for use when the ski season ends. Safety signs posted at the ski site are aimed primarily at winter time sports and include a prohibition against walking on the “mount”. The safety rules state: “Anyone wishing to be on skiable/snowboarding terrain, past the spectator area must have equipment and lift ticket on. Walking on the slopes is STRICTLY PROHIBITED.”
It is reported that the 17 year old girl lost control of her bicycle while maneuvering down the steep rear side of the slope. The child was taken to a Toronto hospital with “life threatening injuries to her head”. The perfect recipe for this tragedy came together for this young lady who was riding her bicycle in a dangerous place and did so without a helmet. Thoughts and prayers go out to this individual and her family.
In truth, like all accidents this tragic event was predictable and entirely preventable. Moreover, it poses a serious question when a similar event in 1977 is recalled.
For those who choose to ignore history, the lessons taught are both painful and VERY expensive.
The 1977 Brampton Gravel Pit Incident
Not far from Mount Chinguacousy, an abandoned gravel pit had been fenced off with plans to ultimately convert the site to a recreation facility.
News reports at the time revealed that fences erected at the site had been breached and that there were any “no trespassing signs” at the gravel pit. It was agreed fact that the property owner (the City of Brampton) was aware that youths had been frequenting the site and using it for off-road trail biking up until the time of the 1977 incident. Subsequent Court records confirmed this.
Two off road bikers collided on a steep curve leaving a 14 year-old boy with permanent life changing injuries. The youth, 14 year-old Michael McErlean collided with the oncoming trail bike operated by another youth (Sarel). The accident left McErlean a quadriplegic.
A lawsuit seeking compensation was eventually resolved in Ontario Supreme Court awarding $3.5 million to the youth who became a quadriplegic as a result of his injuries resulting from the tragic event. The initial demand was for about $7 million dollars and was reduced by the Court to half the amount ($3.5 million).
The terse statement by the Court held that the City of Brampton was negligent in that it failed to post and enforce “No trespassing signs” and further that the City had failed to remove the dangerous curve inside the gravel pit where the collision took place.
In the court’s opinion contained in its ( per curiam) decision, the Court found that “when a young person engages in an adult activity which is normally insured, then they should not be excused from “ruinous” damages that result simply because they are young “- “when the rights of adulthood are granted, the responsibilities of maturity should also accompany them”.
The Supreme Court pointed out that: “parents should recognize this before allowing their children to participate in adult activities. It would be unfair and dangerous to the public to allow children to operate the family motor vehicle (which can be very dangerous) and be evaluated with respect to a lower standard of care than other drivers.”
The 1977 events are tragic on three levels. First, it is most tragic that this young man has suffered life altering injuries in pursuit of fun. It is further tragic that, given the 1977 events, that signage and risk mitigation measures had apparently not been in place at Mount Chinguacousy in this most recent incident.
Moreover, it is most troubling that parents might be absolved as without fault. Would it not be reasonable and logical for a parent to ask his/her child exactly where (specifically) they were planning to ride their bicycles? The entire nearby area has numerous traffic risks given the number of major and secondary roads. The area also has a number of specific use bicycle trails. One would expect that a parent would make sure that their child operated his/her bicycle only in areas designated for such recreation and NOT on Mount Chinguacousy. Such care and caution (by the parent) should be expected to also include insistence that a compliant safety helmet must be worn. Certainly no reasonable parent would hand over the keys for the family automobile to a child without training and a driver’s license.
That we live in a litigious “bubble wrapped” and faultless world is the third tragedy in all of this. The residential tax payer, upon whose shoulders will ultimately fall financial responsibility is perhaps the MOST faultless of all parties in this tragedy.
Even with liability insurance policies in place, no such accident or law-suit settlement is without cost to the ratepayer. Insurance companies simply recoup such financial settlements by way of escalated premiums borne by the ratepayer.
One shudders to think of financial liability each time someone lobbies for another skate board jump facility, another BMX circuit or similar facility.
Have our “bubble-wrapped” misconceptions about lack of personal responsibility replaced common-sense? Perhaps, as Voltaire said, “common sense is not very common anymore”.
At the end of the day, we have 17 year-old girl in a life threatening situation that was entirely avoidable for each/all of those reasons. Have we arrived at the point in time Recreation Departments can only conclude that the only certain way to avoid ruinous harm is by dismantling facilities that “might” bring tragic harm? The “standard of care” dictates that lack of parental instruction cannot be replaced by legal settlement.
We may (already) be approaching that dangerous point in time where Municipalities must turn its mind first to legal liability and thus protect the interests of ratepayers.
Let’s offer our prayers and thoughts to the young girl who was so tragically injured while riding a bicycle in an area where “common sense” dictates it to be unsafe.
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