Posted on Aug 30, 2007

A woman who sustained a brain injury after being struck by a suspended wooden gate at a Surrey, Canada lumber store was awarded $3.7 million by the British Columbia Supreme Court. Jessica Whetung will receive $538,000 for lost wages, $250,000 in damages and $67,500 in trust. She will also receive an award of $2.837 million for future care. She sustained the injury in spring, 2001 and her case has been in court since.

Gash on Head Led to Neurological Condition

The 31-year-old shopper was exiting the store when the gate crashed downward, hitting her in the head and also clipping another shopper in the shoulder. The court judgment said Whetung “likely never will work again after the gash on her head at the Revy Home Centre led to dystonia, a neurological condition which contorted the right half of her body into a frozen posture.”

Three doctors testified in court the damage to her head, not a shoulder injury sustained on the ski slopes, led to a continually worsening condition that resembles Parkinson's Disease. Whetung is employed as a ski instructor. "She walks with a cane and has difficulty getting into bed," said her attorney, Robert Gibbens. "She has spasms, and she literally has no control."

Gate Has History of Falling

This wasn’t the first time the gate has crashed onto shoppers. A store yard worker was hit twice by the gate but sustained no injuries, the court heard. "The gate arm was a known hazard and the close proximity of the gate to the display of bulk goods clearly put customers at risk," B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Grist said.

The owners of Revy at the time, West Fraser Real Estate Holdings Ltd., admitted negligence but attempted to argue the incident was partially because Whetung didn't appreciate the danger of the gate. But Justice Grist disagreed, saying no customer could be expected to anticipate the danger. "Customers seeing the products on display would often, as here, have been unaware the gate arm would come down as it did, with considerable force and without warning," he wrote.

The gate is still in use at the Revy, now a Rona Home Centre, but products for sale have been moved away from the gate. Whetung wants to use her case to raise awareness for dystonia, said Gibbens. "There are other people out there who may be suffering," he said.