Hotel 75% to blame for woman’s fall, court rules

A freak accident on a 13-centimetre-high step at [a Victoria area hotel] permanently changed E.N’s life.

The mother of three went from being an active businesswoman to relying on a cane or brace to walk, after her ankle was shattered when she was leaving the historic hotel on March 2, 1990.

But a B.C. Supreme Court decision Thursday has gone a long way to making the 45-year-old woman fell better.

“I couldn’t stop crying, I was so happy,” said E.N. after hearing Justice Jacqueline Dorgan’s decision that the [Victoria area hotel] was 75 per cent liable for the accident.

Dorgan gave the decision after reserving judgment following the three-day trial this month.

At issue in the trial was liability, or whose fault it was for the fall.

It was E.N.’s first time at the hotel, said her lawyer, Aaron Gordon.

E.N. and her husband had chosen the waterfront hotel as an ideal spot for a welcome-home dinner with her son, because of the view.

After eating in [the dining room], the family left by the front door about 6:30 p.m. E.N. had not had anything to drink.

When she went out the Tudor-style front door, she did not realize there was a drop of about 13 centimetres.

She put her foot out the door and it was as if she had “stepped on air.” She landed on her ankle, shattering three bones.

Though E.N. has had two operations, the ankle has not healed properly. She walks with a cane or a leg brace, and has had to give up tennis and dancing.

Because she cannot stand for any length of time, E.N. said, she also had to close the import-export business she was just starting when the accident happened.

The Saanich woman has gone to Toronto and her native Ecuador seeking medical help. “They tell me I will just have to live with it. It makes me very sad. My life has completely changed.”

In her judgment, Dorgan found that the door and step were dangerous. She found that two small signs at the side of the door were “discreet” and that E.N. did not see them.

The judge found that E.N. was 25 per cent responsible for the accident, because she had entered by the same door an hour previous to leaving, and ought to have had some awareness of the entrance.

Gordon said there had been previous incidents at that same doorway where people leaving were injured. In 1987, a woman in her 80s broke her leg after falling at the step.

The hotel log noted that two other people had fallen on the step, but were n not injured.

The hotel had plans to level the steps as far back as 1987, but it was not done because there wasn’t a convenient time to close the building, court heard during the trial.

Hotel general manager K.W. said the plans were part of overall renovation at the building.

The step was levelled in 1990, about two months after E.N.’s fall.

“This was completely unrelated to her fall,” K.W. said in an interview. “This was not an area that was considered to be a safety hazard. If it was, it would have been looked after immediately.”

K.W. said it is common for buildings of the hotel’s vintage — it was built in 1927 — to have a small step outside the front entrance.

[note: The hotel appealed the Judge’s decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal.]