Canada: Physical Assault By B.C. Court Sheriffs Leads To Injury Compensation Award

Last Updated: April 18 2019
Article by Britni Troy

Sweeney v. British Columbia 2018 BCSC 1832

The recent court decision, Sweeney v. British Columbia 2018 BCSC 1832, deals with the physical assault of a member of the public by two sheriffs at the Victoria Registry of the B.C. Supreme Court. This case resulted in an award to the Plaintiff of $70,000 in damages for their pain and suffering.

The Plaintiff, Mr. Sweeney, had entered the Victoria Courthouse in the fall of 2014 to file some papers. Shortly thereafter, he was subjected to a bag search, then forcibly escorted to the exit of the building by two Sheriffs and subsequently "taken down".  Mr. Sweeney alleged that the Sheriffs were negligent in their use of excessive force and that he suffered injuries as a result 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".

When assessing the actions of the Sheriffs and whether they were negligent in their conduct, Madame Justice Matthews found that the Sheriffs failed to communicate clearly with the Plaintiff and that they used excessive force given the circumstances.  In her Reasons for Judgement she wrote:

[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.

The Court ultimately reduced the award of damages by 5% for contributory negligence stating that Mr. Sweeney bore some of the responsibility for his injuries by resisting the arrest.  When considering the relative blameworthiness of the actions of Mr. Sweeney and the Sheriffs, Madame Justice Mathews wrote:

[106]     Notwithstanding my view that it was inappropriate for the sheriffs to have taken control of Mr. Sweeney's person in this way, I find that Mr. Sweeney did not take reasonable care for his own safety by struggling as he did and by making the "you think you're so fucking tough. Let's see how fucking tough you are" comment.

[107]     Accepting, as I do, that Deputy Sheriff Bergen executed the takedown because of Mr. Sweeney's struggling combined with the danger of the stairs, and applying the principles of causation, I conclude that Mr. Sweeney's blameworthy conduct in struggling as he did was a cause of his injuries.

[108]     I turn to relative blameworthiness. The information the sheriffs had to assess the danger and to address the danger was greater than Mr. Sweeney's. The sheriffs were trained to execute forced escorts safely. They were physically in control of the situation. They were aware of the danger which the stairs and the glass doors posed with a struggling subject. None of this was within Mr. Sweeney's training or expertise. Mr. Sweeney was focussed on his injured arm and the pain, not the danger of the situation. Mr. Sweeney was attempting to communicate with Acting Sergeant Kain, but the sheriffs were only replying to tell him to stop resisting without considering whether that communication would be effective given what Mr. Sweeney was saying. Mr. Sweeney was struggling for two reasons: pain, which does not carry moral blameworthiness, and resistance, which does.

[109]     In the circumstances, I find that the comparative blameworthiness is overwhelmingly on the part of the sheriffs. I apportion liability 5 percent to Mr. Sweeney and 95 percent to the sheriffs.

What to Do if You Have Been Injured in an Assault

The effects of an assault can be significant.  If you have been injured in an assault, you may experience physical as well as psychological injuries, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD.  You may have difficulties working and caring for yourself and your family, as well as have limitations placed on your ability to participate in the recreational or cultural activities that you used to enjoy.

If you are the victim of a physical assault, you should speak to a qualified lawyer as soon as possible to determine whether you are entitled to compensation for your injuries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions