Crown, PVTA file statements of defence in bike injury case 

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A lawsuit against the Pemberton Valley Trails Association (PVTA) and the Province of B.C. took another step towards court with both defendants denying claims by plaintiff Christopher Sanchez, a mountain biker who was allegedly injured when a trail feature collapsed during a race.

The original suit, filed in June 2012, also named the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, but the suit against the SLRD has been discontinued.

Sanchez, identified as a carpenter living in Whistler, was taking part in PVTA race that included Richochet Trail on June 22, 2010 when he alleges that a wooden trail feature, a teeter-totter, collapsed. He claims his injuries from that incident include a fracture of the C1 vertebra in his neck, the fracture of the T8-9 vertebral segment in his mid-back and other injuries that have resulted in "pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and permanent physical disability." He also cites a loss of income and earning capacity as well as medical costs for ongoing treatment.

His suit further states that his injuries were the result of the negligence of the defendants, including failing to ensure his safety or the safety of the trail feature.

Sanchez is represented in the case by Whistler's mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Both the province and PVTA filed responses in court recently.

The four-page provincial government's response denied many of the facts in Sanchez's suit, and stated that many of the facts are outside the knowledge of the province. The province also stated that it had no knowledge of the existence of the Richochet Trail, and denied that Sanchez's injuries were the result of that accident.

According to the response: "...the Province denies that the Plaintiff sustained injuries, loss, or damages, but says, if such injuries were sustained, such injuries, loss, or damages were not caused by the accident as pleaded... but were caused or contributed to by previous and/or subsequent incidents or accidents, or by congenital defects or pre-existing conditions."

As well, the province also suggested that the plaintiff "failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate his damages," and if the accident did occur in the way that Sanchez alleges that it was the result of riding too fast, failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to inspect the stunt before riding it, failing to wear appropriate armour or protective clothing. Further, the province said that if the accident did occur, it was the result of negligence by the Pemberton Valley Trails Association.

For its part, the PVTA response also denies any negligence. Among additional facts presented, the PVTA said Sanchez had ridden Richochet Trail before June 22, 2010 and was familiar with the stunts and available ride-arounds. It also claims the defendant knew of additional safety equipment he could have worn, and that he was riding an event hosted by a non-profit organization that had not inspected all of the wooden structures on the course.

Further, the PVTA claims that: "The plaintiff continued to ride his mountain bicycle for an extended period of time after the alleged injury," and that "alleged injuries, losses, damages or expenses are attributable to previous or subsequent incidents involving the plaintiff, or to congenital defects or previous conditions of the plaintiff."

None of the claims by Sanchez, the province or PVTA have been proven in court.

Both the province and PVTA also claim legal protection under the Occupiers' Liability Act, amended in 1996 to protect property owners from civil suits related to recreation on their land.

The case is being watched closely by cycling clubs across the province and in Sea to Sky, as well as landowners where recreation takes place.

When the suit was made public, Pique contacted lawyer David W. Hay from the law firm Richards Buell Sutton LLP. Known as B.C.'s "bike lawyer," Hay regularly consults with cycling advocacy groups on legal matters related to cycling.

Hay said the success of the suit could depend on the judge's reading of the Occupier's Liability Act.

"That statute itself is designed to facilitate recreation," said Hay. "That was the primary purpose of the amendments to the OLA. It was really to encourage landowners and occupiers to open up access to lands without fear of litigation.

"Prior to the amendment, there was this view that if people were on your land and they were hurt, you could be sued — so there was a tendency to not allow people on your land."

According to Hay, the OLA treats a recreational user the same way it treats a trespasser. "That is, occupiers and owners owe no duty of care to the entrant if they are characterized as a recreational user," he said. "You can't create an alligator pit or fire a shotgun at them, but you can't be liable in negligence if they are a true recreational user, except in extreme circumstances."

In the case of bike stunts on trails, Hay said that it's not the duty of the legal occupier to ensure that they are safe.

The next step in the suit is the discovery process, along with other pre-trial requirements to decide if the case will proceed to trial.

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