A Regina judge has declined to overturn a jury’s verdict finding the University of Regina solely responsible for an accident at its pool that rendered a young woman a quadriplegic.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the University of Regina asked Justice Ted Zarzeczny to rule the jury’s findings “perverse,” arguing the evidence wasn’t there to support the October verdict.
The jury found the U of R’s negligence caused then-16-year-old Miranda Biletski’s accident at the university’s pool on June 6, 2005, when she hit bottom during a dive at a swimming practice. The university had asked the jury to find Biletski and/or her then-swim club, the Regina Piranhas Summer Swim Club, were in-whole or in-part responsible for her accident — a position the jury ultimately shot down.
“The jury’s verdict is not perverse but based upon the jury’s view of the evidence, the facts the jury found based upon the evidence and the application of the law as given to the facts as found,” Zarzeczny wrote in his decision released this week.
By law, a verdict is perverse where it is “bad in law, devoid of evidentiary support or so plainly unreasonable and unjust that no jury reviewing the evidence as a whole and acting judicially could have reached it,” the judge noted.
In asking the jury’s verdict be overturned, the university argued not only that the verdicts on liability and damages were perverse, but that lawyers for the other parties made inflammatory and inappropriate closing arguments to the jury. Among its claims on the latter point, university lawyers argued opposing counsel appealed to the jury’s sympathy, misrepresented the evidence, expressed personal feelings and made inappropriate references to the various parties’ financial resources, among other concerns.
While Zarzeczny said he found the closing argument by Biletski’s co-counsel Alan McIntyre “colourful at times” and that he sometimes used “inappropriate” language or references, the judge determined it was not at such a level that the verdict should be set aside.
“The applicant University has not established that a ‘strong case’ of impropriety has been made out based upon counsel’s final submissions to the jury,” Zarzeczny wrote. “Nor do I conclude that those submissions as relied upon by the University could reasonably be seen as improperly influencing the jury to render the verdict it did.”
Zarzeczny determined it was not proper for him, under the circumstances, to substitute his own verdict on either liability or damages, or to declare a mistrial or order a new trial.
Zarzeczny was also asked to consider additional details like costs and tax gross-up, leading to his awarding $1,158,315 in the latter to Biletski. In terms of costs, the judge awarded double costs due to the fact the university didn’t accept an $8-million settlement offer made by Biletski in July 2017. He also ordered reimbursement of some of the amounts paid by Biletski to various experts, and awarded double costs to the Piranhas.
Biletski has since gone on to become a member of Canada’s Paralympic rugby team and is now working toward an undergraduate degree in business.