Statue of Lady Justice outside courthouse, at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Host parents not liable for fatal crash after party: B.C. Supreme Court judge

Stephen and Lidia Pearson were not liable for the 2012 crash on Salt Spring Island, judge decides

Two parents have been found not legally responsible for a fatal crash involving two teenagers who had been partying at the couple’s home in British Columbia.

Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that Stephen and Lidia Pearson were not liable for the 2012 crash on Salt Spring Island that left the 18-year-old driver dead and caused life-altering injuries to the passenger, Calder McCormick, who was 17 at the time.

In the lawsuit, McCormick’s lawyer argued the Pearsons owed McCormick a duty of care, which they breached by allowing the teen to become intoxicated on their property and by failing to stop him from leaving.

The judge said McCormick’s side was proposing that the Pearsons had to meet a standard of perfection when it came to monitoring the partying teens’ drinking and ensuring they all had safe ways to get home.

“That is simply not the way the world works. The duty is to act reasonably, not to act perfectly,” Hinkson wrote in his ruling released last week. “It is never possible to eliminate all risks and the Pearsons were not required to do so.”

Hinkson found the Pearsons did enough to try to keep the partygoers safe. They arranged for the collection of car keys and Hinkson said there was no evidence that any guests drove away from the party while impaired, other than the two involved in the crash. Lidia Pearson also drove five guests home, the judge noted.

The vehicle that crashed was a Subaru that Megan and Andrew Coupland were trying to sell. That couple was also named in the suit.

Andrew Coupland testified that he had spoken on the phone with a potential buyer who sounded like a young man. Coupland left the keys under the hand brake for a test drive and the vehicle was taken on the night of the party.

Hinkson found McCormick and the driver, Ryan Plambeck, used the car on a joy ride after leaving the party, though he also wrote there was no reliable evidence of how or why the Subaru was taken. McCormick said he was pushed into the vehicle after Plambeck showed up at the Pearsons’ place.

McCormick’s side argued the theft of the vehicle was foreseeable because it’s not uncommon for cars to remain unlocked with their keys inside on Salt Spring Island, but the judge again disagreed.

“I find this was a common practice precisely because these residents did not foresee theft of their cars,” Hinkson wrote.

McCormick’s lawyer, Michael Wilhelmson, said the decision boiled down to a ”tale of two cases.”

“There was the case we heard going in and there was evidence of some pretty wild partying and heavy drinking going on and we thought we heard evidence of two adults running this thing who didn’t do very much,” he said.

But the defence presented a very different case and “it was that case that seems to have been accepted by the trial judge.”

“We see here a finding that there was no duty of care owed, which we find remarkable and surprising,” Wilhelmson said.

McCormick suffered a traumatic brain injury and continues to experience cognitive impairments. He has been staying at an assisted living facility in Victoria since January 2018.

McCormick had already settled with the Couplands and Plambeck’s estate for undisclosed amounts.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

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