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The Spoke (Main)

Western's The Spoke, Sept. 12, 2018.

The USC responded to a civil suit that alleges The Spoke let a patron leave drunk, ending in a student's death on campus.

Andrea Christidis was an 18-year-old, first-year Western University student when she died in October 2015. Her family is seeking part of their $7 million claim from the University Students' Council, alleging the death caused the family emotional trauma.

The driver, Jared DeJong, was sentenced to five years in prison. He and his father are separate defendants in the suit: they are not a part of Western's and the USC's response.

The family's filing in October 2017 was against Western and the USC. In their reply to the family's allegations, the USC said it has sole responsibility for The Spoke's operations. They then denied any culpability in the death and claimed that Christidis herself was negligent.

While the driver was already punished, the suit attempts to implicate the bar as partly responsible for Christidis's death.

Representation for all parties could not be reached for comment; the USC denied to comment as the suit is still in progress.

In covering The Spoke suit, the Gazette has consulted publicly available documents filed in London to the Ontario Superior Court. Bruce Feldthusen, a University of Ottawa law professor, said these documents are a way of making assertions which are only proven or falsified later in the process.

"These documents are not necessarily true. They're not supposed to be, and they're not fooling anybody. They're only claims," he said.

This also holds for the damages sought by the plaintiffs, the Christidis family. He said it seems unlikely they would be awarded any amount near the multi-million dollar figure. He added that upwards of 97 per cent of cases like this are settled, meaning the parties agree to smaller payment before a trial without the defendants necessarily admitting guilt.

In the original filing, the Christidis family accused The Spoke of serving DeJong up to or beyond intoxication and allowing him to leave unimpeded, which would have violated provincial laws. They claim the bar also failed to properly train its employees about the dangers of drunk patrons. In response to all of their allegations, the USC pleaded ignorance to some and denied others.

In their response, the USC also added the bar's security company, Innovative Securities Management, as a third-party defendant. Now brought into the proceedings by an employer, ISM similarly denied or pleaded ignorance to all allegations but one: they admitted to the claim that DeJong was served alcohol at The Spoke, whereas the USC denied it.

The family did not specifically accuse ISM of serving alcohol to DeJong or operating in The Spoke. Feldthusen said it was gratuitous to admit to something of which the company is not accused. It is unclear exactly what role ISM has, if any, in serving alcohol to The Spoke's patrons or knowing whether they are intoxicated.

After defending their own conduct, the defendants allege that Christidis was negligently responsible for her own death. They say she didn't notice the vehicle, wasn't wearing her glasses, wore dark clothing, was texting and purposefully moved into danger, among several other claims.

"She had the last best chance to avoid the incident but failed to so, although she could have done so by the exercise of reasonable care," they claim. "She was the author of her own misfortune."

Feldthusen speculated that the defendants could be raising so many possibilities of negligence as preparation to use even one of them if the suit reaches a trial.

Though The Spoke spends only one paragraph attempting to shift responsibility from Western to the USC, Feldthusen said the relationship between Western and The Spoke, via their relation to the USC, is one of the more legally interesting areas in the documents.

With claims and responses made by the parties, the suit could be nearing its settlement negotiation phase; though the parties could also amend their claims for years. Feldthusen said defendants in suits often prolong the process as much as possible to enter a war of attrition with the plaintiffs.

Update (2:19 p.m., September 13th): the article was updated in paragraph three to clarify that Jared DeJong and his father are not a part of Western and the USC's response.

Correction (3:33 p.m., September 15): The date of Andrea Christidis's death has been updated from September to October in paragraph two and from September 30 to October 7, along with clarity as to Andrea's passing two days later, in the graphic between paragraphs six and seven. The Gazette deeply apologizes for both of these errors.

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Martin is the Senior News Editor at the Gazette. You can contact him at martin.allen@westerngazette.ca, or @mtrallen on Twitter.

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