British Columbia

Rider found liable for 'freak' runaway snowmobile crash that left friend with 'horrific' injuries

After snowmobiler failed to attach a safety shut-off cord, the riderless machine travelled the length of nine football fields before crashing into its owner's friend.

Riderless snowmobile travelled length of 9 football fields before crashing

Devon Webb lost control of his Ski Doo snowmobile, similar to the one pictured here, after he hit an unexpected snowdrift in March 2013. The snowmobile went on without him, only stopping when it crashed into Angelo Passerin. (Svetlana Arapova/Shutterstock)

An Alberta man has been found liable for a freak runaway snowmobile accident in British Columbia in which the unmanned vehicle drove the length of nine football fields before crashing into its owner's friend, causing "horrific" injuries.

Devon Webb and Angelo Passerin, both from Whitecourt, Alta., were on vacation riding through the Renshaw area near McBride, B.C., on March 22, 2013.

Webb's sister, Sarah, was also on the trip. According to a B.C. Supreme Court judgment, Passerin stopped to help Sarah after she got stuck on a side hill. 

The Renshaw area of McBride is popular among snowmobilers from B.C. and Alberta. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Passerin shut off his snowmobile, took a look around and started walking toward Webb.

He made it about three metres before Devon Webb's runaway snowmobile came flying at him, seemingly out of nowhere. 

The judgment said neither he nor Sarah Webb heard it coming and that warning shouts from friends had not a "hope in hell" of being heard, either.

'Freak accident'

Devon Webb, riding at half speed "some distance" behind his sister and Passerin, had lost control of his snowmobile after running into an unexpected snowdrift.

He was thrown over the handlebars, but the snowmobile kept going without him.

The judgment said it flew over a 30-metre cliff, into a snowy ravine and back out the other side. It continued racing at "full throttle" for up to 1,500 metres before it crashed into Passerin and came to a stop.

The remains of Passerin's snowmobile after it was hit by Webb's runaway vehicle. Passerin told the court he never heard the snowmobile coming. (Angelo Passerin)

Passerin's lawyer, Frank Scordo, said the combination of events and unfortunate timing is almost unbelievable.

"It's a very freak accident, there's no doubt about it," he said.

In a notice of civil claim, Passerin sought damages for a number of physical injuries including a traumatic brain injury, fractured vertebrae, broken leg bones, scarring, numbness and a permanent limp.

He also sued for loss of enjoyment of life and loss of of future earning capacity.

Altogether, the lawsuit's list of Passerin's claimed losses is more than 30 bullet points long.

Safety cord wasn't attached  

Devon Webb's snowmobile, a 2012 Ski Doo 800, was outfitted with a number of safety features including a tether cord.

Tether cords are attached to a snowmobile's cap, which acts as a key, and then fastened to a rider's clothes. If the rider falls off, the cord should yank the cap out of the snowmobile, cutting the ignition.

Webb was an experienced rider who kept his snowmobile maintained and knew about the safety features. However, the judge found that Webb didn't have his tether cord attached when he was thrown from the vehicle.

A tether cord, pictured here on the same snowmobile model Webb had, is a safety function that is supposed cut the ignition in runaway scenario. The cord is attached to the key and the rider's clothing, so the key is pulled out when the rider falls. (Submitted on behalf of Angelo Passerin)

Failing to wear the cord means he breached the standard of care he owed Passerin, so Webb was found liable.

Scordo said the ruling is likely a first in B.C.

"We weren't able to find any cases dealing with tether cords not being connected," the lawyer said. 

Passerin is entitled to costs, but his lawyer said it will be complicated to figure out just how much.

The runaway snowmobile wasn't insured and Passerin only had coverage in Alberta. He and his lawyer will have to prove his losses in that province in order to settle on a number.

"It's a process, but he's going to be entitled to significant damages … they're horrific injuries," said Scordo.

"Rather than giving a number, that'll give a good basis for the damages that this man suffered."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

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