Westfair Foods pleads guilty after employee paralysed by rack of plants

Canadian Press

January 26, 2005

SASKATOON (CP) -- Westfair Foods should be handed a hefty fine after one of its employees at a Superstore was paralysed from the waist down on the job, says a Crown prosecutor.

Ava Malisiewicz was 26 when the accident happened in May 2001 at Saskatoon's Confederation Park Superstore. She is currently at a specialized clinic in Carlsbad, Calif., re-learning to walk.

Westfair pleaded guilty in provincial court on Wednesday to a charge of not taking reasonable measures to protect its employee. In return, Crown prosecutor Chris Sabat stayed proceedings on five other charges.

A sentencing date is set for March 17.

Malisiewicz was helping unload bedding plants for the store's garden centre when she was hurt.

The truck had a power lift gate, but the employee of Milner Greenhouses had only been working for three days and didn't know how to operate the gate.

According to the statement of facts, he rolled the rack of plants onto the gate and was holding it with his hands while trying to lower the gate by pushing the power button with his foot. The rack was not secured and its wheels did not lock.

The gate bumped and jerked and the rack fell on Malisiewicz, who had been standing on the ground and reaching up to brace it.

In addition to being paralysed, Malisiewicz suffered a collapsed lungs and broken ribs.

Sabat said it's not certain if she will ever walk normally again.

Westfair Foods lawyer Daryl Labach said the company helped Malisiewicz even though they didn't have to.

At the time she was injured, she was a new out-of-scope supervisor and no longer had union coverage. She was still in the probationary period for her new job and wasn't yet eligible for management benefits.

But Westfair waived the probationary period, providing about $4,000 in various medical coverage, Labach said. The company also spent $46,000 to send Malisiewicz to the California rehab clinic after the Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board refused to foot the bill.

The WCB is now covering the treatments in California after seeing progress. She is no longer confined to a wheelchair but can only shuffle about with a walker or cane for five minutes before being exhausted.

"I realize she may never