A BC woman has been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars over a fiery concert stunt that left her with severe burns and ended her dance career.
Celia Langston-Bergman was 20 years old when she went to see Boogie Monster, playing as a two-person band, in concert in 2011, according to a court decision posted online Tuesday.
The Chinatown venue was small, the court heard, and about 50 fans surrounded the stage that night. The show went past midnight and, near the end, guitarist Ben Fussell tried out a stunt famously performed by Jimi Hendrix.
“Mr. Fussell laid his guitar on the floor, poured a liquid on it from a water bottle and ignited it. There was, by the plaintiff’s account, a ‘huge flame,'” Justice Harry Slade wrote in his decision.
“Mr. Fussell appeared to panic, he dropped the bottle and appeared to kick it away from himself. The flaming liquid extended to where the plaintiff was standing and, while ablaze, splashed onto her legs.”
Langston-Bergman alleged she suffered serious burns on the inside of both legs, below her knees. She was taken to hospital and was given a “burn shower” to clean her wounds. She eventually underwent two grafts, both under general anaesthetic.
“The resulting pain was excruciating … recovery at the donor sites was extremely painful,” Slade wrote.
“Her mother stayed at the hospital ’24-7′ in the first week and then daily until she was discharged. After two weeks of treatment she was discharged to home in the care of her mother. Her pain was managed with medication.”
Langston-Bergman’s mobility was limited because of the burns, the court heard, and she didn’t venture out of her home for several months. The young woman was enrolled at Simon Fraser University’s dance program at the time of the incident and had planned to pursue a career in dance.
“She felt a sense of loss of her capacity to continue in contemporary dance due to the intense physical demands, her deconditioned physical state and self consciousness over her scars,” Slade’s decision said, adding that she didn’t take active dance classes when she returned to school in September 2011.
“She was not physically or mentally capable, her legs were sensitive and she was fearful.”
Langston-Bergman eventually attended nursing school, but is reluctant to work in the ER or ICU, “as she does not want to treat burn victims,” the court heard.
Slade found two people liable for Langston-Bergman’s injuries: Fussell and Tristan Orchard, who rented the facility to the band.
“A finding of liability in relation to Mr. Fussell requires little discussion. He ignited a flammable liquid in the midst of a closely grouped gathering of people,” Slade’s decision said.
“The risk of harm to those surrounding the performers was foreseeable, and it was him that started the fire.”
Slade also ruled that Orchard had a duty to ensure those at the concert “would not be exposed to risk of injury,” adding that evidence supports he was forewarned about the stunt.
Even though Orchard said he didn’t give permission for Fussell to light the guitar on fire, Slade determined he should have taken precautions to ensure the safety of guests in case the musician did still perform it, like make sure the audience didn’t come close to the stage.
The second member of the band, drummer Tony Dallas, was not found liable because he objected to the stunt and reasonably believed Fussell wouldn’t perform it.
Langston-Bergman was awarded just over $200,000, including $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages and $67,200 for past loss of income.