British Columbia

Surviving passenger in fatal drunk-driving crash testifies in trial over party hosts' liability

A man suing the hosts of a party he attended before getting into a deadly impaired driving crash as a teenager testified during a civil trial in B.C. Supreme Court this week, telling the court how the rollover changed the course of his life.

Trial will determine whether party hosts were liable for McCormick's safety as underage teen guest

Calder McCormick, now 25, was seriously injured in a fatal car crash on Salt Spring Island in 2012. (Calder McCormick/Facebook)

A man suing the hosts of a party he attended before getting into a deadly impaired driving crash as a teenager testified during a civil trial in B.C. Supreme Court this week, telling the court how the rollover changed the course of his life.

Calder McCormick suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash after a house party on Salt Spring Island on Sept. 15, 2012. The driver, another teen, was killed.

McCormick was 17 years old at the time.

His injuries and their effect on his career, relationships and personality were raised in his testimony Wednesday and Thursday as his legal team builds its civil case against the couple who owned the home where the party was held eight years ago.

McCormick is suing the hosts, Stephen and Lidia Pearson, for negligence. He claims they owed him a duty of care as their teenage guest. The lawsuit said the couple should have done more to stem underage alcohol consumption in their home and should have tried to stop him from leaving and getting in the car.

The car Ryan Plambeck and Calder McCormick used to leave the party on Sept. 15, 2012. The uninsured 1992 Subaru Loyale was towed to a lot after the crash. (CHEK News)

None of McCormick's claims have been proven in court. The Pearsons have denied the allegations.

The trial will examine the law around social host liability in B.C. and how it might relate to minors. The issue is still relatively novel, and a trial judgment in the case could set a standard for how liable adult hosts might be held if underage partygoers injure themselves or someone else after they leave.

Aspiring carpenter

McCormick, now 24, told the court he used to love riding his BMX bike before the crash. He described himself as an A or B student at Gulf Islands Secondary School, excelling in shop and woodworking classes.

He said he wanted to graduate high school early and begin pursuing a career in carpentry, having already explored apprenticeships. At the time of the crash, he had just started Grade 12.

McCormick, dressed in a dark suit, said he and his fraternal twin brother each wanted to study trades at Camosun College, on nearby Vancouver Island, after graduation. 

"I thought we might volunteer at the fire department together," McCormick told the court.

He went on to describe how his brother did go to Camosun and became an electrician, and how his twin eventually trained as a paramedic and volunteered at the firehall without him.

McCormick said he now lives in Victoria and receives disability benefits. He said he uses marijuana to manage his pain and can't balance well enough to ride a bike anymore.

His lawyer claims he'll never be "competitively employable" due to his injuries.

McCormick was a passenger in the 2012 crash on the Island's North End Road. The driver, Ryan Plambeck, had been at the same party.

On Wednesday, McCormick told the court he had no interest in excessive drinking as a teen but did experiment with alcohol and marijuana and had consumed alcohol at the party.

McCormick described his general drinking activities as "definitely not too often and definitely not that much."

The latter characterization has been disputed by the host, the Pearson defendants.

In their response to McCormick's civil claim, the couple said the teen and his parents were ultimately the ones responsible for his safety. 

"His age and experience was such to leave him accountable and responsible for his choices, notwithstanding his legal status as a minor," the response read.

Ryan Plambeck, 18, was killed in the crash on Salt Spring Island in 2012. (CHEK News)

They also claimed McCormick had a history of using alcohol and marijuana while he was with friends, and said that was something of which his parents were aware.

McCormick told the court he believes others at the party forced him into the vehicle with Plambeck, before they drove away from the party.

A coroner's report said Plambeck, 18, had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit the night of the crash.

McCormick included Plambeck in his original statement of claim. A settlement was reached between McCormick and Plambeck's estate on Tuesday.

The trial is expected to continue for several weeks.

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