Boater injured when vessel struck from behind awarded more than $2 million in damages

An RCMP staff sergeant who was seriously injured when his father’s boat was struck from behind at high speed by another boater in Tod Inlet six years ago has been awarded just over $2 million in damages.

Brent Henderson launched a civil suit against Michael Raymond Gettle in November 2016 seeking damages for past and future wage loss, loss of pension and cost of future care. Gettle did not file a response to Henderson’s claim and a default judgment was entered against him in February 2018.

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In May 2018, Gettle was convicted of three counts of dangerous operation of a boat causing bodily harm. He was allowed to serve a 90-day intermittent jail sentence and prohibited from driving a boat for 10 years.

Henderson’s civil suit was heard over two days in B.C. Supreme Court this year. Court heard that at the time of the crash, Henderson was a 57-year old RCMP officer, married with two adult children, who had received awards for exemplary service.

He lived in North Vancouver and was very active. He cycled, skied, sailed, raced yachts and was actively involved with the Vancouver Rowing Club.

On Aug. 1, 2015, Henderson was visiting his father, Earl, and stepmother, Anne. They set out in his father’s 17-foot powerboat to have dinner, then watch the fireworks at Butchart Gardens.

It was a busy night on the water. Around 10 p.m., the boats started leaving through a narrow opening at the end of the inlet. It was calm. There was no moon that night and visibility was poor, court heard.

Suddenly, Henderson heard the roar of an engine behind him. He saw another boat approaching from the rear at high speed. People were yelling at the boat to slow down. Ten seconds later, the boat crashed into his father’s powerboat with a loud bang.

One witness estimated the boat was travelling at 50 kilometres per hour.

Henderson doesn’t recall the impact, but said he felt “frozen in time,” and like his back was “on fire.”

When he regained consciousness, he was lying on the floor, partly on top of his father. Anne Henderson was lying across the engine with her head hanging over the back of the boat. Henderson crawled over to try to save her, but she was in distress and told him not to touch her arm.

Henderson collapsed on the floor. He dialled 911 but had difficulty talking to the operator. The boat was sinking. Fortunately, he and his family were rescued and taken to shore, court heard.

Henderson was taken to Victoria General Hospital and remained there until Aug. 8. He was dazed and disoriented. Every movement caused terrible pain, court heard.

He had two fractured ribs and fractures to the wing-like bones beside each vertebra, and to the L1, L2, L3 and L4 lumbar segments in the spine.

He experienced excruciating muscle spasms.

Henderson received extensive medical treatment after the crash, including 158 appointments with his family physician and dozens of kinesiology, chiropractic and massage therapy sessions, court heard.

Henderson now suffers from constant pain in his mid-to-low back, decreased concentration and short-term memory loss. He missed eight months of work and suffers from fatigue, depression and anxiety. He is only able to work five hours a day.

In his affidavit, Henderson said he has become “a changed person, one who is no longer social or capable of enjoying recreational activities.”

Henderson planned to retire and work as a consultant until age 70. He now intends to retire at 63, when he reaches his maximum pension entitlement.

Henderson continues to work for the RCMP with significant accommodation and other supports. “Overall, it is clear he has significant and permanent physical and psychological limitations as a result of the 2015 accident,” said Justice John Steeves.

Henderson is nowhere near his pre-accident level of function, said the judge. “He works now through the generous accommodation of his employer and its income continuity program. It is a precarious situation for the plaintiff because it cannot work except in its unique form.”

Steeves found that given Henderson’s age, employment prospects and income, he is entitled to significant damages for future loss of earnings.

He awarded him $2,090,334, which includes $1,225,100 in future income loss and $202,000 in pension loss and $98,000 in past income loss.

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