Surrey school district liable for student’s injury, court upholds

SURREY — A ruling that found the Surrey school district 75 per cent liable in the case of a Grade 7 student jumping off the roof at Peace Arch Elementary has been upheld following the dismissal of an appeal earlier this week.

The district had appealed the decision rendered earlier this year.The incident in question took place March 2008 at Peace Arch Elementary School, and involved then-Grade 7 student Owen Paquette. The 12-year-old and a friend had climbed onto the building’s roof after school had ended for the day and when their principal shouted at them to get down from inside the building, they jumped off. While Owen’s friend landed safely, he himself ended up injured after landing in a stairwell and required two weeks in hospital to recover.

As the youths had accessed the roof using a nearby cherry tree, Owen’s family alleged the district was liable for his injuries as the tree should not have been there. The tree was about one foot away from the roof.

Justice Neena Sharma ruled in February that the district was mostly liable and said it should be expected that a reasonable person would understand that a child might try climbing a tree close to a roof.

“Children act impulsively, with little forethought about the consequences of their actions and with limited insight,” she wrote in her ruling. “Put more simply, reasonable people foresee that children can and often do stupid things that are dangerous even when they know they shouldn’t.”

However, Sharma noted that the nature of childhood does not mean an occupier is simply liable for anything a child might do and that each case should be reviewed in context.

“Given the circumstances at this particular school, a reasonable person would foresee that the cherry tree (or any other tree in similar proximity to the school roof) might be used by kids to climb onto the roof,” she wrote. “As such, the defendant is liable for not taking reasonable actions to prevent children accessing the school roof via the cherry tree.”

In the appeals case, all three judges agreed with Sharma’s ruling. The next step will be to determine the amount the district must pay Owen’s family.

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