The Vancouver Whitecaps have filed an eyebrow-raising negligence and breach of contract lawsuit against the taxpayer-owned company that runs B.C. Place Stadium.
The Major League Soccer franchise filed a B.C. Supreme Court statement of claim on June 16 against B.C. Pavilion Corporation, alleging their landlord failed to obtain third-party liability insurance. The lawsuit, obtained by theBreaker, stems from Whitecaps’ fan Basil Rolfe’s lawsuit against PavCo and the Whitecaps for a 2014 slip and fall injury he suffered on a rainwater-soaked ramp inside the stadium.
The Whitecaps’ statement of claim says that its March 10, 2011 rental contract included a clause making PavCo responsible for third-party liability insurance.
“By the terms of the Covenant to Insure contained in the license agreement, PavCo agreed to assume from the Whitecaps FC the risk of loss or damage to third parties in connection with the license granted to the Whitecaps FC by the license agreement, including loss or damage to third parties as a result of gross negligence or wilful misconduct on the premises,” according to the legal filing by Whitecaps lawyer Daniel Barber of Singleton Urquhart.
“In breach of the license agreement, PavCo failed to obtain the insurance required by the terms of the license agreement, or at all.”
The Whitecaps’ legal documents include part of Rolfe’s June 5, 2015 statement of claim, that said he suffered various injuries to his right leg in the Oct. 25, 2014 accident. The Whitecaps disputed Rolfe’s claims, but want PavCo to pay damages and costs should the court rule in favour of Rolfe. PavCo had 21 days to respond to the Whitecaps’ lawsuit with a statement of defence, but none was available in the online court registry when theBreaker checked on July 21.
Rolfe’s lawsuit alleged that the Whitecaps and PavCo were aware of the dangers on the ramp before that day, because there had been other slip and fall incidents. “The defendants took no steps to ensure the ramp was safe or warn pedestrians including the plaintiff about the hazard.”
In its Nov. 10, 2015 defence statement, PavCo denied that it was responsible for the maintenance of the stadium, including the ramp, and further claimed it owed no duty of care, statutory or otherwise, to Rolfe.
Nearly a year later, on Nov. 3, 2016, PavCo’s third-party notice to the Whitecaps claimed the stadium operator “implemented a reasonable system of maintenance and inspection that was being followed on October 25, 2014. PavCo’s conduct neither amounted to gross negligence, nor wilful misconduct.” PavCo further alleged that “Whitecaps have refused to meet their contractual requirement to defend and indemnify PavCo.”
In a March response to a freedom of information request, PavCo gave theBreaker a censored version of the Whitecaps’ 2016 contract. Not a single clause of the 27-page document is visible. theBreaker complained to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. In 2015, the OIPC ordered PavCo to release its full contract with the B.C. Lions, because an adjudicator held that public bodies cannot withhold copies of negotiated contracts between governments and private companies.
Rolfe required surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital for injuries suffered at the Oct. 25, 2014 Whitecaps versus Colorado Rapids match. In a media statement at the time, PavCo apologized for Rolfe’s injuries: “This was an unfortunate incident. We are truly sorry our guest had a bad experience and wish him well in his recovery.”
Meanwhile, attendance statistics released to theBreaker by PavCo via freedom of information show that the Whitecaps averaged 16,181 fans for their first 11 home dates of 2017.
The team drew a total 177,995 through June 17, which was 18% less than the 217,857 total reported by the club for eight MLS fixtures, two in the CONCACAF Champions League and one in the Canadian Championship.
While the club claimed six crowds over 20,000, figures released by PavCo show there were only two above 20,000. The Whitecaps claimed the biggest crowd for the period was 25,083 to see the L.A. Galaxy on April 1. The actual attendance number released by PavCo was 20,815. Only 11,403 attended the March 2 game against Red Bull New York, the lowest count for the period.
Despite the OIPC ruling, Whitecaps’ chief operating officer Rachel Lewis said in a 2016 interview that the club would continue to publish only the number of seats allotted, not seats used at home games.
Changes are likely at money-losing PavCo, after the July 18 swearing-in of the new NDP Tourism, Arts and Culture minister Lisa Beare and her parliamentary secretary for sport, Ravi Kahlon.
PavCo’s BC Liberal-appointed chair is longtime party donor Stuart McLaughlin. Last fall, the board added director Jatinder Rai, a campaign strategist for former premier Christy Clark. Clark is a longtime friend of Whitecaps’ principal owner Greg Kerfoot and lives in a $3.7 million Dunbar house registered to Kerfoot associate Nevin Sangha.
The day after the Liberals won the 2013 election by surprise, stadium general manager Howard Crosley was fired and given a golden parachute worth nearly $500,000. PavCo’s joint health and safety committee failed to meet in February and March of this year, in violation of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In late 2015, WorkSafeBC found that the 1983-opened stadium had failed to make a violence prevention plan to protect workers from rowdy sports and music fans.