The former inmate has awarded $38,500 in damages after the 2016 fall at Springhill Prison
A former inmate at a Nova Scotia prison has been awarded nearly $40,000 in damages after he slipped and fell into some water outside his cell in 2016 and continues to suffer from related health issues.
Ryan Zwicker, 42, was admitted to the Springhill Institution, a Canadian federal correctional facility in Springhill, NS, on February 18, 2016 after being convicted of possession of narcotics for trafficking.
The fall happened on February 25, about a week after he was admitted.
Zwicker was leaving his cell for scheduled outdoor recreation that evening when he slipped in a puddle of water in the hallway, fell, and hit his head on the concrete floor.
He was beaten unconscious. Witnesses said Zwicker began convulsing and was taken to the hospital.
In the days following his fall, Zwicker complained of nausea, vision and memory problems, headaches and extreme neck pain.
Zwicker’s case went to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last year. He argued that the defendant, the Attorney General of Canada, failed to “use reasonable care to prevent his injury from occurring”.
He said the defendant was responsible for his fall and the casualties and injuries that followed.
In a ruling released earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice D. Timothy Gabriel ruled that the Attorney General of Canada “failed to perform the standard of reasonable care [Zwicker] was reasonable to expect.”
cause of the fall
Gabriel’s decision outlined the fall, what happened immediately afterwards and how Zwicker continues to suffer from some health issues five years after his release.
Three inmates who were in their cells at the time of the fall testified in the case. Two reported seeing water on the ground before the fall. One said the liquid was there up to two hours before Zwicker’s fall.
Timothy Thomas, who was one of three correctional officers on duty at the time, testified that he did not see the fall but that he witnessed the aftermath.
Thomas said he helped move Zwicker after the fall and saw nothing on the ground.
In his testimony, Thomas pointed out that there is no specific policy on how to deal with a hazard, such as a burial, once it is discovered.
“The lack of a policy governing the behavior of duty personnel when a hazard is discovered is critical,” Gabriel wrote in his ruling.
“I recognize that [Correctional Service Canada] already has countless policies, and it is not possible to imagine, let alone regulate, every possible situation that could possibly arise in an institution as large as Springhill. However, it takes neither forbearance nor clairvoyance to foresee that a wet floor would pose a significant risk to inmates and staff, particularly when inmates are released from their cells at recovery time.
Footage has been overwritten
When the court asked for footage of the fall, they were told it had been overwritten.
The institution has a policy that dictates that footage is only retained for six days. If there had been an attack, the footage would have been kept longer to aid in future trials.
Neil Rideout, who worked as a security intelligence officer as of Fall evening, said he viewed security surveillance video footage to confirm Zwicker had not been attacked.
“That would have ended my involvement,” Rideout testified, adding that he was the only person to view the footage before it was overwritten.
In the days after the fall
Zwicker said the last thing he remembered before the fall was putting his jacket on. The next thing he remembers, he was in an ambulance with prison guards and felt “extreme pain in his neck and back.”
He said the guards told him he had fallen and recalls the doctor telling him “he would be fine”.
He returned to prison that same night, where his cellmate told him he had fallen in a puddle of water.
In the days following his fall, Zwicker reported a sore throat, headache, nausea and lethargy.
“As he complained of his sore throat, he recalled that two or three of the guards laughed at his expense and made offensive jokes,” Gabriel said in his ruling.
Gabriel added that Zwicker felt he was “not receiving the medical care he needed and was being treated poorly in general”.
Zwicker continued to complain of nausea, lack of concentration and blurred vision, which the prison doctor determined.
About a month after the fall, a personal report from Zwicker said he still had migraines, lightheadedness, and pain. He asked for Tylenol and muscle relaxants until he could be seen by a physical therapist.
In early 2017, Zwicker was released into a transitional home on Brunswick Street in Halifax. During his probation, he was seen twice by his family doctor, who said Zwicker suffered a “severe concussion” while incarcerated.
He received two prescriptions, including one for Valium, and a referral to a neurologist.
Before he could see the neurologist, Zwicker was sent back to the institution for violating the terms of his parole.
In prison, Zwicker saw the neurologist, who found that he suffered from headaches, impaired vision and balance, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. He was prescribed medication for his migraines.
Zwicker was officially released from the institution in February 2018. He has since been to another neurologist who agreed he had suffered a concussion.
He now lives in Toronto and is employed at a restaurant where he “works at a reduced standard which has negatively impacted his earnings in this industry,” Gabriel wrote.
Zwicker said he continues to suffer from short-term memory loss and debilitating headaches, which Gabriel agreed and “is related to the head trauma he suffered on February 25, 2016.”
In his judgment, Gabriel awarded Zwicker $30,000 in general damages, $20,000 for disability and $5,000 for future care costs, for a total of $55,000.
However, the judiciary found that Zwicker did not continue with treatments suggested by his doctors, which he believes have alleviated some symptoms.
Because of this, Gabriel said, the amount would be reduced by 30 percent, “as a result of [Zwicker’s] Failure to mitigate its losses.”
Instead, Zwicker will receive $38,500 in damages.
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