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"Blind Lawsuit" - 2008 Paralympic runner who is blind being sued for colliding with woman on canal pathway

An article posted on SportsOttawa.com a few days ago was brought to my attention, which details how it is that 2008 Paralympian Jon Dunkerley is being sued for $350,000 in damages over a 2010 jogging collision.  You can read the original article at http://sportsottawa.com/content/blind-lawsuit.

The short version, based on that story and others, is that Jon is a runner.  He is also blind.  On the fateful day, he was running, with his guide, along a pathway which follows the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.  He'd been running with this guide for two years or so beforehand.  He was with a group of runners, at least some of them blind.  While passing another woman on the pathway, a mishap occurred, and he (and perhaps some others in the group) ended up falling on her, and she was injured.

So injured, she claims, that she has filed a lawsuit claiming for $300,000 in damages (plus $50,000 for loss of care on behalf of her child), naming Jon Dunkerley, Jason Dunkerley (his brother, also a Paralympian), their guide runners, and a recreational organization (which may or may not have had any connection whatsoever to the group) as defendants. 

One article from the National Post (Canadian Paralympians face lawsuit after collision with Ottawa jogger) describes her claim as follows:

The lawsuit against the blind runners also alleges they were “running at an unsafe speed given the circumstances, including their abilities, their method of communicating with their guides, the terrain of the path, the size of their running group, and the number of other users of the path at the time.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the running group attempted “to pass other users of the recreational path when it was unsafe to do so” and that the nine-member formation failed to share the popular jogging path.

Lepage’s statement of claim alleges that the blind runners “owed a duty of care to other users of the recreational path not to create a hazard or situation of danger that the other users cannot avoid.”

Time will tell how this will turn out for those involved.  The victim has a background in law.  By suing so many parties, she is perhaps hoping that, if an award is made in her favour (and none of this has yet been proven in court), that someone amongst them will either have insurance that might cover the incident, or at least enough assets to pay the judgment.  All of that remains to be seen.

But what does this mean for those of us who are blind, or partially sighted, and who participate in sports activities where there is a risk of an accident? 

For several years in high school and university, I skied with an organization known as Ski Hawks in Ottawa.  This was downhill skiing.  When I began, I'd never been to a ski hill much less down a mountain.  They have well-trained guide skiers, and, based on their 2011 Operations Manual posted on their web site, carry insurance through the Canadian Snowsports Association which covers them for incidents which may occur during the course of their duties. 

The real question here, though, is where do you draw the line?  If, let's say, a relatively novice skier loses control, flies down the mountain, and crashes into you, and you are injured, are you going to sue them for negligence, breach of duty of care (assuming the inexperienced skier is not trying to run the hardest hill on the mountain), or anything of the sort?  Possibly, but accidents do happen.  Nonetheless, even in sport-related accidents, participants are expected to take some reasonable level of care for others' safety.

A fluke accident like this should not deter people from participating in recreational activities they enjoy.  There are any number of studies out there which conclude those who are blind or who have partial sight are less physically fit than the average joe.  Participating in these activities is important.

But unfortunately, we must remain cognizant of the reality that we live in a litigious society.  Whether or not this woman succeeds, the Dunkerleys and others have to find resources to hire lawyers to mount a defence.  The whole process could take a year, or two, or three.  Having some kind of liability insurance in place is something to consider, just as a precaution. We really should not have to go to that extreme.  But some may think it easier to prove that "the blind guy" (or gal) owed a greater duty of care to the public than the next person. 

Is that fair? 

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.

Comments

Does anyone know the outcome of this case? I am hoping it was dropped/throw out.

Does anyone know the outcome of this case? I am hoping it was dropped/throw out.

Wow. I truly think that she must be more empathetic and that it is very wrong how she could react so cruelly to this complete accident. She should seriously take a second to look at the Dunkerley's, and all other blind runners in that groups perspective. Imagine how difficult it was for the Dunkerly's to train to the point of the Paralympic games! Just imagine how many people told them to give up on their dreams and quit running! Cut them some slack, I am a runner with mild Cerebral Palsy and can just imagine how difficult this mountain has been for them.

They are extremely inspirational, some of the best role models for any person!
They are heroes.

What are you accomplishing from suing them? Showing our worlds' children not to look up to true heroes? Shedding a bad light over them?

Do you see something wrong with this picture?

I do.

Wow. I truly think that she must be more empathetic and that it is very wrong how she could react so cruelly to this complete accident. She should seriously take a second to look at the Dunkerley's, and all other blind runners in that groups perspective. Imagine how difficult it was for the Dunkerly's to train to the point of the Paralympic games! Just imagine how many people told them to give up on their dreams and quit running! Cut them some slack, I am a runner with mild Cerebral Palsy and can just imagine how difficult this mountain has been for them.

They are extremely inspirational, some of the best role models for any person!
They are heroes.

What are you accomplishing from suing them? Showing our worlds' children not to look up to true heroes? Shedding a bad light over them?

Do you see something wrong with this picture?

I do.

The thing that concerns me about this case and others like it is that there tends to be a default assumption that the blindness is the cause. This assumption is made in all sorts of situations and with respect to all kinds of characteristics that get marked as important (e.g., being a woman, being gay, being an immigrant). My hope is that this assumption does not play the role I think it will, but my suspicion is that the Dunkerley brothers, if they do go to court, will have to prove that they weren't at fault rather than Ms. Lepage having to prove that they were.

I wonder if this incident occured the other way, would the Blind person or organization whom organized the event would perform the same suit? Anthony, with your short version to this incident, I agree liability insurance should be in place. Fluke incidents do occur but I'd be interested to know how the organizers of this event thought out the safety issues, as well as the participants and the what-if's?

I don't think this was an organized event, i.e. my understanding is that although the people involved are affiliated with various organizations, this was not in any way a "sponsored event" or any formally organized run. Just a group of people out for a jog.

After reading the link where the Jogger aledges her injuries, and being hit from behind, I do think she should be compensated. However to the tune of over three hundred thousand dollars? She also aledges that the other Joggers were running at a pace despite their condition. I'd like to think if she noted that she could have let them pass and run behind them. It's interesting too that she aledges they hogged the track. Although she was injured I believe she was parcially responsible for the accident. In regards to liability insurance, I think it may be wise for one to consider.

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.