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B.C. woman who suffered severe burns from guitarist’s fire stunt awarded $202K

Guitarist Ben Fussell’s 2011 stunt went awry, resulting in severe burns to a concert-goer
Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. (File photo)

A B.C. woman has been awarded $202,200 in damages after she was badly burned by a performer who attempted to light his guitar on fire at a Vancouver music venue in 2011.

On May 14, 2011, the plaintiff Celia Langston-Bergman and her boyfriend went to an indie rock show by the band Boogie Monster at what B.C. Supreme Court Justice Harry Slade described as “an old and somewhat run-down building” in Chinatown. There was an elevated stage at the venue, but Boogie Monster performed “in the round”, where attendees were gathered around the performers in an oval formation in close proximity.

Langston-Bergman wore a dress, socks, and leather boots leaving her legs exposed.

Boogie Monster took to the stage around 10 p.m. and sometime after midnight, guitarist Ben Fussell attempted to emulate Jimi Hendrix by pouring a flammable liquid on the guitar from a water bottle and setting it on fire. The stunt caused a “huge flame” which caused Fussell to panic, drop the bottle and kick it away from himself.

The flaming liquid spread to where Langston-Bergman was standing and while ablaze, splashed onto her legs. The flames were put out by concert-goers and she was transported to hospital. She suffered severe burns to both legs from the sock line to the lower thigh. Treatment for her burns was “excruciating” and included two skin grafts.

At the time, Langston-Bergman was enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University with a major in contemporary dance. She had been a dancer since the age of six and pursued dance extensively throughout her life. She was in the second year of her program when the accident occurred.

Recovery lasted for months. Langston-Bergman had to dress her wounds frequently, causing pain. Her mobility was severely limited. Eventually, she was able to venture outside her home, but her injuries precluded her from resuming her dance program.

After being forced to give up on her dreams of dance, Langston-Bergman took employment as a bartender for $9 an hour plus tips. In 2013, she moved to Montreal to take a job in a restaurant as a kitchen worker for $12 an hour. If she had graduated from her program at SFU, Langston-Bergman likely would have gone on to become a dance teacher which pays an average of $25 an hour.

While in Montreal, Langston-Bergman refocused her career goals and became a registered nurse. She now earns more than she would have if she had become a professional dancer, however, she’s reluctant to work in the ER or ICU as she does not want to treat burn victims.

Justice Slade found that Fussell was negligent in performing his dangerous stunt, as Fussell was warned by the event promoter, Tristan Orchard not to perform the stunt inside the venue. Orchard said that if he wished, Fussell could perform the stunt outside.

However, Slade also found Orchard to be negligent because despite being forewarned, Orchard did not take adequate steps to ensure Fussell would not light his guitar on fire. Buckets of water that had been placed around the stage as a safety precaution had not been removed. Slade said this amounted to evidence that Fussell intended to proceed with the stunt.

“Direct and visible supervision of Mr. Fussell during his performance was not provided. Despite the foreseeable risk that Mr. Fussell would perform the stunt, the audience was not restrained from coming into close proximity with Mr. Fussell. The standard was not met. In the result, the stunt was performed, resulting in injury to the plaintiff. There was a breach of the statutory duty to ensure the safety of the persons attending the performance of Boogie Monster and in particular the plaintiff,” Slade wrote.

Langston-Bergman was awarded $135,00 in non-pecuniary damages and $67,200 in past loss of income. Slade ruled that the evidence was insufficient to support Langston-Bergman’s claims for future lost income.

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