$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment After Sheriffs Negligently "Takedown" Courthouse Visitor

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, ordering Sheriff’s to pay just under $70,000 in total damages to a plaintiff who was injured when they were forcibly removing him from a BC courthouse.
In the recent case (Sweeney v. British Columbia) the Plaintiff was attending the Victoria Registry of the BC Supreme Court to file some papers pertaining to a Residential Tenancy matter.  Sheriff’s approached him and asked to search his backpack.  After some misunderstanding about his consent to do so he was forcibly removed.  In the process the Plaintiff was actively resisting in that “he was trying to pull his arm away from Acting Sergeant Kain’s hold on it because of the pain in his arm” and displayed “a negative attitude towards the authority of the sheriffs“.
A sheriff executed a takedown of the Plaintiff and the court found they were negligent in doing so.  The takedown caused various injuries including “a laceration to his forehead, a concussion, exacerbation of pre-existing injuries to his right arm and shoulder and a rotator cuff tear to his right shoulder.“.   The court assessed non-pecuniary damages for these injuries at $70,000 but reduced the award by 5% for contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.
In explaining why the sheriffs were negligent Madam Justice Matthews provided the following reasons:

[90]         I find that both sheriffs believed that Mr. Sweeney was trying to break free. I find that they were in a dangerous situation because they were at the top of two sets of cement stairs separated by a set of glass doors. While they both testify that they never lost control of Mr. Sweeney, they both testified that they were concerned that they would lose control and that would be dangerous to them. Acting Sergeant Kain was also concerned about the woman coming up the stairs.

[91]         I am mindful to not second guess the sheriffs given the dangerous situation they were in. However, I am of the view that they created this dangerous situation by marching towards the stairs notwithstanding the hazards the stairs presented and that Mr. Sweeney was struggling from the outset.

[92]         Both sheriffs decided to cease the escort and to execute maneuvers to maintain control over Mr. Sweeney. They decided this independently and made different decision about what to do to manage the situation.

[93]         The Sheriff Policy Manual requires the sheriffs to use the minimum amount of force necessary to gain control of a subject. I accept the opinion of Mr. Summerville, supported by the evidence of Acting Sergeant Kain, that putting Mr. Sweeney against the wall was far safer than a takedown in the circumstances given the stairs and a very hard ground surface onto which Mr. Sweeney was forcibly put down. A takedown was not, as the Sheriff Policy Manual requires, the minimum force necessary in the circumstances. I conclude that a takedown was not within the reasonable range of options available.

[94]         I find that the sheriffs both breached the standard of care in taking physical control of Mr. Sweeney at the outset, in not communicating about what they were going to do in the face of danger they both recognized as soon as they took control of him and in not changing course prior to being in the dangerous position of being on the stairs. I conclude that they sheriffs breached the standard of care by failing to communicate after each of them decided to change course their course of action. I find that Deputy Sheriff Bergen breached the standard of care in executing a takedown.

[95]         The defendants do not dispute that the takedown caused injury to Mr. Sweeney. Accordingly, the plaintiff has established negligence against the sheriffs.

Madam Justice Matthews, Sheriff Liability, Sweeney v. British Columbia, Takedown

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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