The deceased was shot and killed accidentally by a guide near Burns Lake, British Columbia while participating in a grizzly bear hunt. This is the wrongful death claim of the widow. At issue was a release of liability sign by the deceased for the hunting season the year before the hunt in which he was killed.(Cooper v. Blackwell,2017 BCSC 1991)

His widow filed a personal injury lawsuit under the Family Compensation Act alleging that the hunting guide and defendants were liable  for the death of her husband.  The defendants invoked an Assumption of Risk and Release from Liability Agreement that they claimed applied to bar the claim.

The defendants argued that the  hunt at issue was a continuation of the past hunting season and in the circumstances constituted a single excursion to accomplish a single goal to bag a grizzly bear. The defendants also claimed the hunt at issue had the same purpose and the same risk. Where the parties have a history of dealing on the basis of particular written terms (i.e., the Liability Release Agreement), such terms should govern their legal relationship respecting any additional transaction where the documentation is overlooked or not provided.

The judge disagreed and refused to enforce the release stating:

[33] I have no hesitation in concluding that the grizzly hunt in May 2014 was a separate and distinct excursion not in any way contemplated by the parties at the time the July 28, 2013 Liability Release Agreement was executed by Mr. Cooper.  Since the wording of that Agreement refers only to the excursion which had been contracted for by the parties at the time of the document’s execution, I find that, properly interpreted, it has no application to the fatal accident that occurred some 8 1/2 months following completion of the September 2013 hunt.

[34] I do not doubt that each of Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell may well have considered the 2014 hunt to have been a “continuation” or “extension” of the unsuccessful hunt undertaken almost nine months earlier.  One can readily understand from a commercial perspective how the “no additional fee” aspect of the venture might reinforce such a view.  However, the law is clear that their subjective rationale and intent in providing Mr. Cooper a no-fee hunt is not admissible evidence, whether under the guise of “surrounding circumstances” or otherwise, informing the proper interpretation of the Liability Release Agreement signed on July 28, 2013.

The court found that the Liability Release Agreement did not apply to the hunt during which the deceased was killed.  That Liability Release Agreement therefore provided no defence to the action brought by his widow.

The defendants’ application seeking dismissal of the action was dismissed.

Posted by Personal Injury Lawyer Mr. Renn A. Holness, B.A. LL.B.

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