Paralympian wins lawsuit over Regina university in swimming accident

Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press


Published Saturday, October 21, 2017 1:02PM EDT


Last Updated Saturday, October 21, 2017 1:59PM EDT

REGINA — The lawyer for a Paralympian says his client is relieved to have won a lawsuit over the swimming accident that left her quadriplegic.

A jury decided late Friday evening that the University of Regina is to blame for Miranda Biletski’s accident and has awarded her $9.1 million.

Her lawyer, Alan McIntyre, says Biletski is pleased that the jury decided the university is at fault, and not Biletski herself or the swim club, which rented the pool.

“It was such an emotional moment … because the university has always blamed her. They say it’s her fault, so this was such a relief for her,” McIntyre said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Saturday.

Biletski can move her arms and shoulders, but has limited hand use.

McIntyre said the award should be enough to cover Biletski’s care for the rest of her life.

“That’s completely the point and that’s what the jury got,” he said.

Biletski dove into a pool from competition starting blocks at the university during a swim club practice in June 2005. The then-16-year-old hit the bottom and fractured her cervical vertebrae, leaving her quadriplegic.

McIntyre had argued during the trial that the pool was unsafe. That’s why the university had a policy about no dives off the lip, he said.

Court heard that the pool depth of four feet or 1.22 metres was laid out in the tiles.

But at issue was whether there was enough water in the pool. Court heard that the person responsible for pool maintenance only added water one time in two months leading up to Biletski’s accident.

The university’s lawyer, Erin Kleisinger, said in her final submissions that the pool depth and the height of the starting blocks met Swimming Canada guidelines.

Kleisinger said Biletski “did a bad dive” and it was “clearly a tragic accident.”

The university also filed its own lawsuit against the Piranhas Summer Swim Club to cover damages if the jury found the university liable. It said the swim club coaches made the decision that the water level was safe and to use the starting blocks.

Reg Watson, the lawyer for the Piranhas Summer Swim Club, said the club never signed a contract with an indemnity clause that would make it liable.

Watson also took issue with the university attempting to shift the blame to the club, saying the university is in charge of their facility and knew how people were using the pool.

The jury did not find the swim club liable.

But McIntyre said the university may still appeal the jury verdict.

“Most assuredly they could appeal and I expect with this much money involved, they will appeal,” said McIntyre.

Biletski is the first woman on Canada’s wheelchair rugby team. She played with the Team Canada rugby squad at world championships in 2010 and 2014, and at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the team placed fourth.

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