Debilitating injuries described in mounting lawsuits against alleged van attacker

By Liam Casey

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Traumatic brain injuries, spinal fractures and internal bleeding are among the litany of ailments described in a mounting number of lawsuits against a man accused of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others in a van attack in Toronto last year.

Lawyers involved in the suits against Alek Minassian believe the cases, which the court is working to pull together in one large proceeding, will take years to come to a resolution.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in the city’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down.

While Minassian’s criminal case slowly makes its way through the system – his trial on 10 first-degree murder charges and 16 attempted murder charges has been scheduled for February 2020 – the 26-year-old already faces four civil suits, with more expected.

The lawsuits, from the families of one person who died and three who were injured, are seeking millions of dollars from Minassian and Ryder Truck Rental Canada, alleging the devastating injuries and deaths on that day were due to an intentional act by Minassian and negligence on his and the rental company’s part.

The unproven civil suits will be fought in the trenches of insurance law.

“This is going to drag on for a long, long time,” said Gus Triantafillopoulos, who represents the family of Anne Marie D’Amico, a young woman who died that day and whose family filed a $1-million suit in January against Minassian and Ryder.

Triantafillopoulos said if the family receives any money through the civil proceedings it will all be donated to the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, which supports women who are victims of violence.

The first suit related to Minassian was filed in November 2018 by Amir Kiumarsi, a chemistry instructor with Ryerson University who is seeking $6 million dollars in damages.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and several skull fractures, spinal fractures, traumatic internal injuries including a displaced kidney and numerous other injuries throughout his entire body, the claim says.

“These injuries have been accompanied by severe physical pain, suffering and a loss of enjoyment of life,” the claim alleges, noting that his future holds “numerous surgical and medical assessments, treatments and procedures.”

Since Kiumarsi filed his suit, the court is in the process of getting all the cases on one track, documents show.

Another suit was filed in mid-January by Amaresh Tesfamariam and her family, who are seeking $14 million. Tesfamariam has a complete spinal cord injury, multiple spinal fractures, rib fractures and a traumatic brain injury.

She cannot move her body below her neck, cannot breathe without a machine, suffers a total loss of independence and a “profound and permanent loss of her cognitive ability,” according to the claim.

Tesfamariam also has loss of short-term memory, depression, anxiety, a “drastic personality change” and cannot communicate properly with others, and cannot return to her work as a nurse, the claim alleges.

The latest suit was filed last week by Catherine Riddell and her family, alleging the “sustained serious and permanent” injuries the woman suffered are the result of negligence on the part of Minassian and the rental company.

Riddell lost consciousness, suffered a brain injury, hurt her head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, legs and arms. She fractured her spine, her ribs, pelvis, scapula and suffered internal injuries including a collapsed lung, the $3.55 million suit alleges.

She lives with headaches, memory loss, difficulty finding words, dizziness, back and neck pain, loss of mobility, nausea, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and depression, her claim alleges, noting that she now faces a life filled with therapy, rehabilitation and medical treatment.

“Her enjoyment of life has been permanently lessened and she has been forced to forego numerous activities in which she formerly participated,” the claim reads.

Minassian does not yet have legal representation in the civil matters and has not responded to the claims, according to the documents. His criminal lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawyers for Ryder, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, detailed the expected complexities in the litigation in an affadavit filed with the court.

It notes that notice has been given for 12 claims and more are expected. There will be numerous parties in the case from families of the dead to the injured and the various defendants. There will be examinations for all plaintiffs, and testimony would be expected from numerous medical experts.

“It would be safe to assume this matter will require a lengthy trial,” said the affidavit.

Kiumarsi’s lawyer, Darcy Merkur, said there will be a slew of arguments brought forward.

“One interesting question is this: is every different person hurt considered a separate accident?” Merkur said. “It’s a legal question, but also a philosophical one.”

The answer to that question will be important to the issue of potential payments, he explained.

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B.C. man convicted of distracted driving despite dead iPhone battery

RICHMOND, B.C. _ A B.C. driver has been found guilty of using a cellphone while behind the wheel, even though its battery was dead.

The decision, delivered Monday by judicial justice Brent Adair in Richmond, says Patrick Grzelak was using his iPhone with earbuds in his ears.

The ruling says Grzelak was alone in his Mercedes on Oct. 12, 2018, heading home after a long day, with the dead iPhone in the centre cubby hole of his dashboard, when he was pulled over in Surrey.

Adair found Grzelak was using the device because it was “in a position in which it may be used,” as defined under the Motor Vehicle Act.

Adair ruled it didn’t matter that the battery was dead or that Grzelak was not using the phone.

With the earbuds in, Adair ruled Grzelak was essentially holding the device.

“Since the earbuds were part of the electronic device and since the earbuds were in the defendants ears, it necessarily follows that the defendant was holding the device (or part of the device) in a position in which it could be used, i.e. his ears,” Adair wrote.

Adair pointed to a previous provincial court ruling that reached a similar conclusion in 2015.

In that decision, Adair says another judge ruled a dead battery does not override wording in the Motor Vehicle Act that makes it an offence to simply hold an electronic device in a position in which it may be used.

Conviction on a charge of using an electronic device while driving carries a $368 fine, plus four penalty points, as well as an Insurance Corporation of B.C. penalty fee of $210.

Honda To Recall Almost 84,000 Vehicles In Canada With Dangerous Airbags

Tom Krisher | Associated Press via CP

DETROIT — Honda is likely to recall around 1 million older vehicles in the U.S. and Canada because the Takata driver’s air bag inflators that were installed during previous recalls could be dangerous.

Documents posted Monday by Canadian safety regulators show that Honda is recalling many of its most popular models for a second time. The models are from as far back as 2001 and as recent as 2010.

Canadian documents say about 84,000 vehicles are involved. That number is usually over 10 times higher in the United States.

Affected models include the Honda Accord from 2001 through 2007, the CR-V from 2002 through 2006, the Civic from 2001 through 2005, the Element from 2003 through 2010, the Odyssey from 2002 through 2004, the Pilot from 2003 through 2008 and the Ridgeline from 2006. Also covered are Acura luxury models including the MDX from 2003 through 2006, the EL from 2001 through 2005, the TL from 2002 and 2003 and the CL from 2003.

Transport Canada, the country’s transportation safety agency, said vehicles covered include those that were under previous recalls and others that had air bags replaced after collisions.

Takata used the chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate the air bags. But the chemical can deteriorate over time due to high humidity and cycles from hot temperatures to cold. It can burn too fast and blow apart a metal canister, hurling shrapnel into drivers and passengers.

At least 23 people have died from the problem worldwide and hundreds more were injured.

The recalls are part of the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history. As many as 70 million will be recalled.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin wouldn’t give details Monday evening, but said the company is communicating with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “and plans to issue a public statement tomorrow.” Messages were left after business hours Monday seeking comment from NHTSA.

Owners will be told to take their vehicles to dealers to have the inflators replaced.

 

Food delivery worker’s insurance policy cancelled after collision

CTV News Toronto 

A Burlington woman, who used her vehicle while working for a food delivery service, said she was shocked to realize that damage sustained in a crash would not be covered under her current insurance policy.

Tanya Maiato said that she signed up to work with Skip the Dishes in December to earn a little extra money. She said she would do a couple of delivery runs a week.

Maiato said she used her personal vehicle to deliver food. In February, she said someone crashed into her crash, resulting in about $8,400 in damage.

Everything went smoothly when she filed her insurance claim, Maiato said, and she was provided with a rental car while her vehicle was being repaired. But after they found out she was working for a food delivery service, the claim and her policy were both cancelled.

“I was honest and let them know that I was driving for Skip the Dishes at the time and they had asked me, did I inform my insurance company about this and I said no, I had no idea I had to.”

The company said that the standard auto insurance policy does not cover commercial or for-profit use of the vehicle.

Maiato said that when she joined Skip the Dishes, she was unaware she required extra insurance. But the company told CTV News Toronto that the information was in the driver’s contract.

“When a courier joins the Skip network, they do so as an independent contractor and they’re considered to be operating their own business,” a spokesperson said. “They must abide by all legal requirements. This may include additional insurance.”

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, owners should always check with their insurance company if they use the vehicle to earn income.

“The last thing anyone wants is to be involved in a crash and find out that they are not covered because they did not tell their insurer how they are using their vehicle or if that use has changed,” said Pete Karageorgos.

Maiato now has to pay for the damage to her vehicle herself and says she regrets signing up with the food delivery service.

“I’m incredibly upset,” she said. “It’s been a very stressful time.”

“Had I known about this, I would never have signed up in the first place.”

To boldly go: Manitoba man wants court to allow ‘Star Trek’ licence plate

By Kelly Geraldine Malone

THE CANADIAN PRESS

WINNIPEG _ A lawyer representing Manitoba says a “Star Trek” fan wasn’t allowed to keep his personalized ASIMIL8 licence plate because the word cannot be dissociated from the history of forced assimilation of Indigenous people in the province.

Manitoba Justice lawyer Charles Murray told court Monday that licence plates are owned and issued by Manitoba Public Insurance, and the insurer cannot be divorced from a historical context of  “cultural genocide.”

Assimilate, whether in the sense of a fictional alien race or the real history of Indigenous people in Canada, is  “talking about wiping out the uniqueness of people,” Murray said.

The legal challenge against MPI was launched by Winnipeg’s Nick Troller over the Crown corporation’s decision to revoke his personalized plate in 2017.

Troller is an avid fan of the  “Star Trek” TV franchise and in 2015 got the plate with the well-known words from the alien race the Borg. He put the ASIMIL8 plate in a border that stated:  “We are the Borg” and  “Resistance is futile.”

James Kitchen, lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued on behalf of Troller. Kitchen told court that Troller drove around for nearly two years with the plate on his vehicle without any complaints. In fact, Kitchen said, many people asked Troller for photos with the plate.

“The word assimilate is just a word,” the lawyer argued.

That changed on April 22, 2017, when a woman from Ontario posted a photo of the plate on Facebook and complained to MPI that the plate was offensive because of the history of government assimilation policies.

The judge reserved his decision.

Documents filed in court show multiple emails between MPI officials trying to understand how the licence plate was approved in the first plate.

Plates are denied for a variety of reasons, including if they are offensive, suggestive, discriminatory or include racial or ethnic slang. They are the property of the Crown and can be recalled at any time.

The ASIMIL8 plate was considered by a five-person committee. Internet searches were done on its meaning and it was issued without any concerns.

Troller was later contacted and told his plate was deemed inappropriate and was being recalled.

Kitchen argued the emails show it was a “knee-jerk reaction” to the complaint that violated his client’s charter right to freedom of expression.

He pointed to a case where a man’s licence plate was removed after the controversy around the ASIMIL8 plate.

Kitchen said a First Nations man was upset after his NDN CAR plate was recalled earlier this year. Kitchen said the man had the plate, which references the song “Indian Cars” by Keith Secola, for years before MPI recalled the plate for being offensive.

Justice Centre president John Carpay said in an interview from Calgary after the hearing that freedom of expression cannot be trumped by some “kind of legal right to not feel offended.”

“When freedoms are lost, typically, they are lost gradually bit by bit by bit,” he said.

“If a person cannot express their enthusiasm for ‘Star Trek’ using a word that is inherently not offensive, that is a small step in the wrong direction.”

Personalized licence plates have been controversial before.

A man in Nova Scotia is also to be in court this month over a personalized licence plate. Lorne Grabher has been trying to reinstate his “GRABHER” plate since it was revoked in 2016 by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles following an anonymous complaint.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance recently denied Dave Assman (pronounced Oss-man) a licence plate with his last name on it. In response, he put a large  “ASSMAN” decal on the back of his truck.

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