Seven years after she was hit by a speeding police cruiser, Erika Watkins still suffers from injuries which are likely to linger for the rest of her life.
As a result, the Campbell River woman was recently awarded $965,827 by a B.C. Supreme Court judge who ruled that RCMP Const. Dave Dormuth made an “unnecessarily aggressive” move as he attempted to pass Watkins’ vehicle en route to the theft of a bait car.
“Dormuth chose the option that created the very risk that materialized: a high-speed collision as he attempted to pass the Watkins vehicle by going in the oncoming lane of traffic,” said Justice Murray Blok, in a March 31 decision.
Watkins was 27 years old when the accident occurred. She had a good job, played several sports, skied and fished, but her life changed forever on the morning of March 4, 2007.
Watkins was driving on Dogwood Street, heading to work for a 6:30 a.m. shift at the now-defunct Elk Falls paper mill, when police responded to a bait car activation.
At the time, bait cars were new to the city, and when the thief triggered the silent alarm, the watch commander at the RCMP detachment sprang to action, “Bait car activation – let’s go!”
Watkins was northbound and approaching the police detachment when two cruisers pulled out in front of her with lights on, but no sirens. They also headed north and Watkins pulled into the left lane, anticipating an upcoming left turn.
However, wanting to avoid a potential incident and delay ahead, Watkins decided to turn left earlier, onto Pinecrest Road. That’s the last thing she remembered before waking up in hospital.
As Watkins’ 2003 Mazda Protege was passing the Strathcona Gardens complex, Const. Dormuth pulled out from the RCMP detachment and accelerated to 70-80 kilometres an hour.
As the officer headed down the hill, he saw Watkins’ car, but it was too late. Dormuth attempted to pass her in the southbound late, but wound up T-boning the Mazda.
The officer, a former ambulance paramedic, was also briefly knocked out, but when he came to, went to assist Watkins who had also regained consciousness.
As a result of the accident, Watkins sustained a head wound and later suffered from severe neck and back pain. However, the worst was the head injury which still lingers.
“The most significant problems for Ms. Watkins relate to her head injury and the continuing symptoms she has because of it,” the judge wrote. “She said it impacts everything she does in her daily life.”
At the time of the trial, in March 2012, Watkins still suffered from headaches, mood changes, anxiety, poor concentration and memory, fatigue, problems with balance, irritability and intolerance to noise. Doctors testified she may experience symptoms for the rest of her life, however, she is able to participate in sports again, but not to the same extent or ability as before.
“Suffice it to say that Ms. Watkins…suffered physical injuries that caused her a great deal of pain and discomfort over a number of years and which are expected to have permanent lingering effects,” said Justice Blok. “The effects of her head injury…will likely be with her for the rest of her life.”
The judge awarded Watkins nearly $1 million, mainly for loss of future earnings due to permanent disability.
The Mirror contacted both Const. Dormuth and Watkins. The officer declined to comment while Watkins’ lawyer, David Tees, spoke on behalf of his client.
“We’re very pleased she was vindicated by the judge,” Tees said Thursday. “This is a tragic result of police not acting in the way they should.”
He added that police have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public, even on the way to an emergency.