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Former student sues Maple Ridge school board

Landon Smith and the Westview secondary senior boys’ soccer team travelled to Guadalajara on a cultural exchange in 2008. Smith was injured in a car crash and is now suing the school district for negligence. - The News/Files
Landon Smith and the Westview secondary senior boys’ soccer team travelled to Guadalajara on a cultural exchange in 2008. Smith was injured in a car crash and is now suing the school district for negligence.
— image credit: The News/Files

A former student of Westview secondary is suing the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board for injuries sustained in a car crash during a field trip to Mexico in 2008.

Landon Roy Smith launched the civil suit to recoup medical costs as the accident left him with permanent disabilities.

Smith was 15 in March 2008, when he participated in a soccer exchange with students from the Colegio Once Mexico, a private school for Guadalajara’s elite.

The nine-day trip entailed staying with home-stay families, sight-seeing and training with elite soccer players.

Smith billeted with the family of Paul Lopez, a 16-year-old Mexican student who he struck an instant friendship with.

Two nights before Smith was to head back to Canada, the pair went to the home of a friend of Paul’s. Oscar was having an impromptu farewell party, with Smith a guest of honour.

On the way back home from the party, however, Lopez swerved to avoid a car that had veered into his lane. He lost control and hit a street light. The car was wrecked.

In an interview in 2008, Smith said he had a stomach ache so had unbuckled his seatbelt and was reclining in the passenger seat when the car crashed.

The impact flung Smith into the windshield.

He sustained a traumatic brain injury, facial and abdominal trauma, partially paralyzed his left arm and lacerated his liver.

His notice of claim states the injuries have and will continue to cause him suffering. Smith continues to receive medical care for his injuries and will require treatment for the rest of his life.

The lawsuit alleges Smith’s injuries were caused by the “negligence” of the school board, their employees and agents.

The lawsuit claims the school board failed to properly supervise and protect students, particularly Smith.

It also alleges the board failed to monitor Smith’s activities and safety during the trip or properly screen the home stay family.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board would not comment on the lawsuit, but stressed it takes the safety of students seriously.

“Ensuring student safety on all field trips – not just those out of the country – is absolutely our top priority, and that we have protocols and procedures in place to ensure this,” said Irena Pochop, school district spokesperson.

In a response to Smith’s claim, the school board denied it was negligent.

Before the trip, parents were advised of the living arrangements and rules were outlined.

“The plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk of injury when he chose to ride in a motor vehicle driven by a minor and to not wear a seatbelt, when he knew or ought to have known that this was unsafe and contrary to the rules of the student exchange,” states the response.

The board noted that students were only permitted to travel in vehicles driven by adults and were told to always wear seat belts.

In their response, the board said Smith did not request permission to ride in a vehicle driven by Lopez.

The board alleges it was Smith who was negligent when it came to his own safety.

It notes Smith should have known he was breaking the rules by riding in a vehicle driven by another student. He also should have known that Lopez’s ability to drive safely was impaired by “inexperience, drugs, alcohol, fatigue, illness, or some combination thereof.”

A trial date has been set for Sept. 2015.

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