B.C.’s highest court has upheld a $1.14-million ruling against the City of Burnaby and tenants renting a city-owned property where a woman was seriously burned in a backyard fire nearly six years ago.
On May 14, 2014, Alla Abdi went to a party at 6541 12th Ave., a residential property owned by the City of Burnaby and being rented by Paul and Roberta Bottomley.
Abdi, who was 23 years old at the time, joined people sitting around an outdoor fire when, without warning, Paul Bottomley poured used motor oil onto the fire from a bucket, according to a ruling by the B.C. Court of Appeal Monday.
“The oil exploded onto Ms. Abdi, and she became covered in flames from neck to toe,” the ruling states. “She began running around and tried to roll on the ground to extinguish the flames but became entangled in a goalie net. She suffered severe burns and her life was forever changed.”
Abdi sued the city and the Bottomleys, accusing the Bottomleys of negligence for constructing an unsafe fire pit, failing to obey city bylaws and pouring an accelerant onto an open fire.
Abdi said the city was negligent for failing to maintain their property in a safe condition, failing to routinely inspect the property, failing to enforce its bylaws banning open fires and failing to remove the fire pit.
The city had known about at least one previous outdoor fire at the Bottomleys’ in 2008 that saw flames shooting 20 feet high, according to court documents.
Firefighters had extinguished that blaze, but the city had not followed up with any inspection of the property or demand the Bottomleys remove the fire pit – until after Abdi was injured.
A jury found the Bottomleys and the City of Burnaby were at fault and originally assessed damages at $4.56 million, including $3.8 million for pain and suffering, but Canadian law has a cap on awards for pain and suffering in legal battles.
The city and the Bottomleys appealed the decision.
The city argued it couldn’t reasonably have foreseen that Paul Bottomley would pour used motor oil onto the fire and the city was therefore not responsible for the injuries that happened to Abdi as a result.
The Bottomleys, meanwhile, argued they couldn’t reasonably have foreseen that pouring oil onto the fire would cause an explosion since Paul Bottomley had done it many times before.
In a unanimous ruling Monday, the court of appeal dismissed those arguments.
The court upheld the trial judge’s conclusion that the city owed a duty of care to visitors to its property and that it had breached that duty.
“The evidence that the city did not take any steps to inspect or to address the Bottomleys having fires at the property, until after the incident, was uncontested,” wrote Justice Susan Griffin. “There was evidence that if the city had taken such steps, the Bottomleys would have removed the fire pit and ceased having fires on the property.”
As for the Bottomleys’ argument, Griffin said, even if the Bottomleys hadn’t foreseen the risk of explosion, a reasonable person would have.