POLE FAULT: Saanich girl injured by falling road sign

Emma Ingram, 12, stands with her mother Laurie Simard beside a pole in front of Cedar Hill middle school. The ‘parallel parking only’ sign fell on Jan. 21 and hit Ingram in the head while she was walking on the sidewalk along Cedar Hill Road. - Kyle Slavin/News staff
Emma Ingram, 12, stands with her mother Laurie Simard beside a pole in front of Cedar Hill middle school. The ‘parallel parking only’ sign fell on Jan. 21 and hit Ingram in the head while she was walking on the sidewalk along Cedar Hill Road.
— image credit: Kyle Slavin/News staff

Emma Ingram is getting used to daily headaches and difficulties concentrating in class.

Four weeks ago the 12-year-old Cedar Hill middle school student suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a falling metal pole on the sidewalk in front of the school.

The heavy pole – a Saanich-owned road sign that indicates to drivers that the surrounding area is for parallel parking only – struck her on the right side of her forehead, knocking her to the ground.

“I fell backwards onto my backpack. Two boys that I was walking with put the pole onto the side of the sidewalk so nobody would trip on it, then they ran into the school to get help,” Ingram recalled. “Some Grade 8s came up and were saying things like, ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ until the secretary came.”

Laurie Simard, Ingram’s mom, picked her daughter up and took her to a clinic, where the doctor said Emma had been concussed

With the assistance of a lawyer, Simard submitted a personal injury claim with the District of Saanich notifying them of her daughter’s injuries, eight days after the Jan. 21 incident.

The following day she received a letter from Scott Broughton, Saanich’s manager of risk management, saying the municipality was not liable.

He advised Simard that public works crews inspected the sign on Jan. 22, after being notified of the incident by school staff, and saw it was damaged.

“The sign was bent and the threads at the base of the pole were damaged,” he wrote. “It is believed that the sign may have been previously knocked to the ground within a couple days prior to Jan. 21, 2014. … It is suspected that a passerby may have attempted to re-erect the pole, however it would be impossible to achieve a solid installation without the proper tools, and particularly since the threads had been damaged. The pole therefore would have been very unstable, and was most likely balancing precariously.”

He said Saanich is not liable because the municipality did not know the sign was a hazard, and therefore did not act in a negligent manner.

“If we ought to have known it was in that kind of condition and failed to act (then Saanich could be liable), but there was no way to know it was in that kind of condition,” he explained to the News.

“If something fell on somebody’s head in my house or my yard, I’d be responsible for that, whether (the condition of that object) was reported or not,” Simard said, adding she was “flabbergasted” by the response.

Broughton wrote that it is Saanich policy that staff does not conduct “formal periodic inspections” of the tens of thousands of municipal signs – from parking signs to stop signs – unless “defects or hazards” are brought to the attention of municipal staff.

“(In) this instance no prior complaint was received. As the District has complied with its policy, no liability can be imposed,” he wrote.

Irene Ives, vice-principal of Cedar Hill middle school, says that very same pole – which stands nearly three metres tall – has fallen before and Saanich was made aware of it at the time.

“This pole in particular last year had been compromised in some way, and during a school run in the community somebody that ran past it brushed it with their shoulder. The pole crashed over and landed on somebody’s car,” she said.

Ives recalls school staff notified Saanich of the pole’s condition when that incident occurred.

“Student safety is always our primary concern, even if it’s outside school hours and not (directly) on school property,” she said.

Broughton said he “wasn’t aware” of the incident involving the car.

He said crews properly rethreaded the sign in question after the Jan. 21 incident, putting it “back to pre-accident condition” using a pipe wrench.

Earlier this week, as Ingram and Simard stood beside the pole for a photo, the Grade 7 student demonstrated that the pole was still insecure by spinning it back and forth in its threaded sleeve.

Simard says she wants to see Saanich change its policy, or at least better fasten the poles in the ground in areas where people are prone to walk.

“This is where students get dropped off – it’s dangerous,” she said. “I’m worried somebody else will get hurt. It’s a poor design, especially for in front of a busy school.”

Broughton says Good Samaritans should never attempt to reinstall a fallen sign. Instead, call Saanich public works at 250-475-5599 or 250-475-6190.

While Ingram ultimately missed two full weeks of school, and could only tolerate half-days her first week back, she says her head is slowly feeling better.

“I go for drinks of water regularly because I get headaches and I’m light sensitive,” she said.

“It hit me on the front of the head and fell off right away. But if it had hit to the centre of my head I could’ve been paralyzed.”

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