In Burlington, a bird-brained lawsuit

Woman sues hydro company over traumatizing "bird strike"

A bird-brained lawsuit

Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

Nestled along the sandy shores of Lake Ontario, Burlington’s Beachway Park is a summer hot spot for sunbathers and swimmers and Frisbee chuckers. With a scenic waterfront trail that stretches for two kilometres (and a “Snack Shack” that’s open till dusk), it is easy to forget that the entire beach is lined with gigantic hydro towers. As the city’s website says, the park is “a bit of paradise.”

Except, of course, for all the dead birds.

For decades now, visitors have been stepping over the feathered corpses—slashed and bloodied after colliding with those hydro lines and plummeting to the earth. In one especially grim week, a park regular counted 35 cormorant carcasses lying in the sand. So what happened to Doreen Walker, back in the summer of 2007, was perhaps inevitable: while sitting in a beach chair, immersed in a book, one of the doomed birds plunked on the top of her head. Terrified, Walker flung her arms into the air, only to suffer multiple fractures to her left hand in the process. She filed a $750,000 lawsuit against both the city and the province’s power company, Hydro One, claiming that more could have been done to prevent such a traumatizing “bird strike.” Burlington chose to settle out of court (the dollar figure is secret). But Hydro One refused to admit liability, insisting that reasonable steps were taken to limit the number of cormorants crashing to their deaths—including the installation of 145 “diverters” designed to warn birds about nearby wires.

And that, a judge ruled, was plenty. “There is nothing that Hydro One did or failed to do which rises to the level of reckless disregard,” wrote Justice William Hourigan. “It must be remembered that in the almost 100 years since the towers had been in place on the beach the plaintiff’s case is the only reported instance where someone has been struck by a bird.”

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