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Province Not Liable For Prisoner Injured by Axe

Reasons for judgement were release this week by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, dismissing a lawsuit against the Province of BC for injuries sustained by an inmate struck with an axe, allegedly by another inmate.
In this week’s case (Foulds v. British Columbia) the Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Nanaimo Regional Correctional Centre.  In the course of his incarceration he was placed on a “farm gang” along with other inmates.  The Plaintiff and another inmate were tasked with clearing brush and stacking wood.  They were provided with axes.   The Plaintiff and the other inmate decided to chop down a tree (a job that he was not tasked with).  During this time the Plaintiff “was struck on his left knee with an axe“.  There was some inconsistency about whether the Plaintiff struck himself or was struck by the other inmate.
Mr. Justice Affleck held that even if the other inmate struck the Plaintiff the Province should not be liable.  In dismissing the claim the Court provided the following reasons:

[32] The standard of care imposed on the Province in managing the NRCC farm inmates cannot be one of continuous supervision of every inmate at all times. I have no basis to conclude that the system of supervision in place at the farm on May 14, 1997 was deficient and failed to meet the appropriate standard of care. Nor can I conclude that Mr. Matthews’ decision to permit the plaintiff and Cameron the use of an axe to clear brush and to split wood fell below the standard of care. Both the plaintiff and Cameron had been assigned various tasks by Mr. Gooding and Mr. Matthews had no reason to change those assignments. I do not fault Mr. Matthews for permitting the plaintiff and Cameron to take an axe nor do I fault Mr. Matthews for not escorting the plaintiff and Cameron to the worksite in the wooded area.

[33] In my opinion, the absence of direct supervision of the plaintiff and Cameron was not the cause of the injury. The injury was caused or at least occasioned by the decision of the plaintiff and Cameron to use the axe to chop a tree, a task to which they had not been assigned.

[34] There appears to have been several reasons for the NRCC to have a farm. One important reason was for those inmates who were permitted to work on the farm to enjoy a level of independence not permitted to other inmates. That independence would be meaningless if there was continuous supervision. Nevertheless if there was not constant supervision the risk of injury associated with the use of tools of various kinds was increased. That risk had to be tolerated if independence to any degree was to be achieved. The standard of care imposed on the Province must be viewed in that light. I cannot find the Province was negligent.

[35] The action is dismissed…

bc injury law, Foulds v. British Columbia, Mr. Justice Affleck, Standard of Care