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B.C. woman awarded $5.37M after accident with farm vehicle

Sharlene Gustafson of Abbotsford suffered major injuries following a farm vehicle accident in July 2019. "The consequences have been terrible," the judge said in his ruling.
BC Supreme Court Vancouver
The Vancouver Law Courts.

B.C. Supreme Court has awarded an Abbotsford woman $5.37 million in damages after a July 2019 farm-vehicle accident left her with multiple injuries and unable to use her legs.

The court heard Sharlene Gustafson was living with partner Donald Blanes and others in a century-old farmhouse owned by Doreen MacFarlane, who lived on another part of the property.

On the day in question, Gustafson, Blanes and his son Ryan were trimming a large holly bush. Once the trimming was complete, MacFarlane arrived in a Gator, a small four-wheeled, off-road farm utility vehicle.

She began to help with cleanup and took loads of trimming debris to the burning pile.

“Ms. MacFarlane’s foot unintentionally slipped from the brake to the gas pedal,” Justice Geoffrey Gomery said in his Oct. 26 decision.

Before she was struck, Gustafson, then 57, was behind the Gator, preparing to load the remaining debris into a bin at the back.  

“Suddenly, she [MacFarlane] drove the Gator backwards into Ms. Gustafson, pushing her along the ground for a distance, then running her over with both rear and front wheels while travelling down a slope,” Gomery said.

Gustafson suffered broken bones in her neck, ribs, sternum and pelvis. She suffered a spinal cord injury, liver laceration and a collapsed lung. 

She could not feel her legs, state court documents. She lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. Blanes performed CPR until emergency responders arrived.

“MacFarlane failed to exercise reasonable care by failing to attend to what she was doing with her feet, causing the Gator to abruptly accelerate backwards,” Gomery said.

“The consequences have been terrible for Ms. Gustafson,” the judge said in his ruling, noting she has lost the use of her legs. She has partial use of her arms and hands and is able to operate a powered wheelchair.

The judge said MacFarlane requires ongoing treatment to maintain the use of her hands and has some sensation in her lower body and experiences pain and cramping. She requires assistance and special equipment to move between her bed and her wheelchair at the beginning and end of the day. 

“Mr. Blanes has provided Ms. Gustafson with virtually all the round-the-clock care she requires at home,” Gomery said. “This has been demanding and he is physically and emotionally exhausted. It is an arrangement that cannot be sustained for much longer.” 

Gomery said the couple continues to live at the farmhouse but it is no longer suitable for them.

“In addition, it is awkward and uncomfortable that Ms. MacFarlane remains their neighbour and landlady,” Gomery said.

Gustafson sought an award of about $8.2 million and MacFarlane said her damages are less than half that. 

Broken down, the award is $4.44 million for the cost of future care, other than accommodative housing; $435,000 in general damages; $89,670.36 in special damages; $315,000 as an in-trust award in respect of the care and services provided to Gustafson by Blanes; $47,000 for loss of past earning capacity; and $43,000 for loss of future earning capacity.