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Men involved in Chilliwack workplace accident awarded over $20M

A construction site accident in Chilliwack in March 2016 killed one man, paralyzed another and left a third worker traumatized.
BC Supreme Court Vancouver
The Vancouver Law Courts.

B.C. Supreme Court has awarded a combined $19.6 million to two men involved in a March 2016 Chilliwack industrial accident.

On March 11, 2016, a construction crew, including Gerson Alvarado, Robert Clegg and Surrey resident Sebastian Gomez, was pouring concrete at a townhouse development.

To reach far corners of the site, concrete was pumped from a 12-wheeled truck through a hose attached to mobile metal boom. The weight of the truck’s outstretched boom was stabilized by four outrigger legs.

The courts found that when a metal outrigger on the concrete pump truck operated by Clegg failed, it caused an outstretched boom laden with concrete to fall.

One judge said one of Clegg’s co-workers, Gomez, was killed instantly and another, Alvarado, was crushed. He was paralyzed from the chest down as a result.

In a pair of September judgments, Alvarado was awarded $15.4 million and Clegg $4.177 million.

On July 11, B.C. Supreme Court awarded $875,000 to Gomez's widow.

The defendant was KCP Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. 

The Alvarado case

When the truck’s boom fell on Alvarado, he experienced seven fractured vertebrae; a broken sternum; a dozen broken ribs; damage to both lungs; lacerations to his liver, spleen and left kidney; a broken femur; shattered ankle; torn spinal ligaments; a torn carotid artery; and dangerous blood loss.

The injuries involved two spinal cord injuries and have left him wheelchair-bound for life, Justice Michael Tammen said in a Sept. 15 decision.

The judge said despite the loss of nerve function, Alvarado described constant pain akin to intense burning sensations across his stomach, groin, buttocks and legs.

“At times, it feels to the plaintiff as if waves of electricity are coursing up and down his body,” Tammen said, adding Alvarado has lost all ability to use his abdominal muscles, and requires assistance for almost all routine activities.

“Not surprisingly, Mr. Alvarado, who previously had no history of depression or other mental health issues, suffers from depression and anxiety post-accident,” the ruling stated.

Both Alvarado’s wife and mother described differences in Alvarado’s mental and emotional functioning since the accident.

“The evidence of both was compelling and poignant,” Tammen said.

Alvarado sued for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life; reimbursement for past expenses associated with care needs, what are often called special damages; compensation for past wage loss; compensation for loss of future earning capacity, or future income loss; damages to cover cost of future care; and damages for loss of housekeeping capacity, both past and future.

Alvarado was 26 at the time of the accident.

“The evidence before me is overwhelming that Mr. Alvarado should receive the maximum available amount for non-pecuniary damages, to attempt to compensate him for the pain and suffering caused by these catastrophic injuries,” Tammen said.

KCP did not file a response to the notice of civil claim, which resulted in the default judgment and an award of $15,456,192.

Unlikely ever to work again

In a Sept. 23 ruling, Justice Andrew Mayer said Clegg remains traumatized by the incident, will require medical care for the rest of his life and continues to have family difficulties.

Clegg sought damages from KCP for the psychological trauma he claims was caused by witnessing the accident.

He claimed for income loss, loss of housekeeping capacity, non-pecuniary damages, a past in-trust claim, and cost of future care, totalling approximately $4.7 million. Mayer said KCP filed no defence in Clegg’s claim and a default judgment resulted.

On the day of the accident, Clegg had been pumping concrete for approximately 45 minutes. The concrete pump truck boom was extended and workers were placing concrete on what would be the floor of a parking garage.

Mayer said Clegg heard a crack, later determined to be the sound of one of the pump truck’s outriggers breaking.

“Within milliseconds, Mr. Clegg saw Mr. Alvarado hit in the chest by the falling boom and bend backwards, sustaining gruesome compound fractures,” Mayer said. “The boom hit Mr. [Gomez], who was instantly killed. Mr. Clegg was sprayed with his blood.”

Clegg passed out and awoke in an ambulance on his way to the hospital.

Clegg was placed under a psychiatrist’s care and prescribed medication, including antipsychotics, and received treatments, including light therapy.

“He participated in group sessions for trauma survivors. He testified that he became hyper-vigilant on safety matters,” Mayer said, noting he has attempted to return to work numerous times but experiences trauma from triggers on construction sites.

Mayer said the repercussions of the incident continue to haunt Clegg.

“He experiences hallucinations, including seeing Mr. [Gomez], and he regularly experiences flashbacks of the accident itself. He testified that his sleep continues to be disturbed by nightmares of the accident and that he now only sleeps two hours each night. He testified that he is miserable, irritable, and described his life as a living hell.” 

The situation has also caused family problems, according to the ruling.

Mayer said Clegg’s mother, Bonnie McLean, testified that before the accident, Clegg appeared to be a happy, content, hands-on father. Since the accident, she testified Clegg has become unpredictably emotional, laughing one moment and crying the next.

A psychiatrist testified Clegg continues to experience PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric difficulties — which are chronic in nature and will likely never return to his pre-accident level of functioning. The doctor said Clegg would require medications and psychotherapeutic treatment, including psychotherapy, for the remainder of his life.

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