The Surrey School District has lost an appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that found it 75 per cent liable for injuries suffered by a Peace Arch Elementary student who fell from the school’s roof nearly seven years ago.
In a decision posted online Monday, B.C. Court of Appeal judges upheld findings from earlier this year regarding negligence and that the school district was largely to blame.
“While the risk may have been equally obvious to the plaintiff and the defendant, it was open to the trial judge to find that the defendant, an institution charged with the care of children and obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of its premises, ought to have brought a greater degree of thought and care to the risk posed by children getting on the roof than did the children doing the climbing,” the Nov. 14 judgment states.
The injured Grade 7 student was one of two who had climbed onto the White Rock school’s roof via a cherry tree after classes on March 4, 2008.
According to court documents, the 12-year-old fell approximately 20 feet during efforts to get down – efforts that followed a yelled order by the principal to do so.
(The trial judge found the principal’s actions did not contribute to the boy’s injuries.)
The boy landed in a gated cement stairwell, suffering “significant” injuries that kept him in hospital for two weeks.
In finding the district 75 per cent liable, the trial judge noted she was not persuaded by submissions the defendant could not have anticipated such an event.
In the appeal, lawyers for the school district argued the trial judge erred in finding that “reasonable people foresee (that) children can and often do stupid things that are dangerous even when they know they should not.”
They argued the statement describes “a standard of care amounting to perfection in assessing whether the school board met its duty of care as an occupier.”
The lawyers also argued that the trial judge misapprehended evidence regarding prior incidents of young persons accessing the roof and the school board’s knowledge of young people climbing trees to access the roof.
But appeal judges disagreed.
“The school board was aware of a risk and took some steps to reduce it… I would not interfere with the trial judge’s conclusion that the school, by failing to deal with that evident risk, failed to discharge the obligation it owed” to ensure those on the premises would be “reasonably safe” in using them.
The lawyers also argued that the student was well aware of the fall risk. However, appeal judges suggested the district over-estimated the boy’s judgment.
It “was an error made by a 12-year-old boy,” the decision states.
“His fault… was precisely the type of misjudgment to be expected of a boy this age.”
School district spokesman Doug Strachan said Wednesday that court proceedings with regards to damages are ongoing.