One has to tread lightly when writing about a lawsuit that's before the courts. Suffice to say, federal government bureaucrat Mimi Lepage probably won't get much sympathy in the court of public opinion for suing Paralympics runners Jason and Jon Dunkerley, who have been blind since birth, for long-term injuries she says stem from they and their guides colliding with her a Sunday morning jog in early 2010. Lepage is seeking $350,000 from the Dunkerleys and seven other unnamed defendants, even though she was able to complete a 10-km race three months later.
Common sense would suggest that there is no way a man who competes in a Paralympic class "for runners who have no light perception in either eye and are unable to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance or direction" can be held to the same standard of care as a sighted person. Yet Lepage's lawyer says this is how it has to be — "It is not a fair system for either side." Yeah, it is almost as unfair as being born without the gift sight many of us are fortunate to take for granted, he did not add sarcastically.
From Gary Dimmock:
In documents filed in Ottawa court on Dec. 22, 2011, Lepage says she was running south on the west side of the Rideau Canal when the Dunkerley brothers, their guide runners, and others in their running group crashed into her from behind.
The claim says that after the collision the Dunkerleys fell on top of Lepage, injuring her so badly she had trouble walking and has been unable to tend to housekeeping, let alone run.
"The collision was caused by the negligence of the defendants, Jon and Jason, who, as elite runners and users of the public recreational path, owed a duty to other users of the path not to create a risk or harm to those users," the statement of claim alleges.
The lawsuit against the blind runners also alleges they were "running at an unsafe speed given the circumstances, including their abilities, their method of communicating with their guides, the terrain of the path, the size of their running group, and the number of other users of the path at the time." (Ottawa Citizen)
One has to wonder how a person could be so injured yet able to complete a 10K (6.25 miles) race just a few months later. Or why someone should believe that jogging constitutes hardcore training for Jon Dunkerley since his specialty is a sprint, the 400-metre dash.
From speaking to a mutual acquaintance — in the interest of full disclosure, Jon Dunkerley was the best man at a close friend's 2010 wedding — the most distressing part for the Dunkerleys is that the guide runner Jamie Stevenson is named in the personal-injury suit. Since Jon Dunkerley, like many 31-year-olds, doesn't have a ton of personal assets, Lepage might focus her case on Stevenson.
Living on the $1,500 per month income of a carded athlete and some earnings as a webmaster, [Jon] Dunkerley is unable to pay for a lawyer himself beyond three hours of free legal help through Reach Canada — an organization that serves people with disabilities — and he feels overwhelmed and helpless.
Dunkerley's legal aid has told him that because of his lack of house insurance, and therefore an ability to pay for a defence and any damages he may be ordered to pay, it is likely the case will focus on his guide instead.
Dunkerley dreads the ordeal that his friend, along with his club and former running buddies, will now face.
"It's not something that is just going to go away," says the fourth-place finisher from the 2011 world championships who believes that his guide did everything possible to avoid Lepage. "I feel really badly for Jamie who was doing me a favour and now he is being accused of negligence." (SportsOttawa.ca, emphasis mine)
It would not be prudent to predict how this might wend its way through the legal system. One can take Lepage at her word to some extent and accept this surely did disrupt her comfortable life. How one can be comfortable suing two young men who have overcome some long odds to represent their country proudly and live independently, you tell me.
(Cross-posted to Eh Game.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).