What was supposed to be a relaxing Caribbean vacation for Tom Klatt and his wife after a stressful year turned his life around instead.
One of Canada’s most prominent private investigators, Klatt, from Toronto, was an active man before a fall at an all-inclusive Sandals resort in St. Lucia in 2009 seriously injured his leg.
“It destroyed me; staying in shape became a real battle,” Klatt said. “I want to go for a walk with my son, well, I can go to the end of the aisle.”
Now, twelve years – and a decade-long legal battle – later, Klatt wants to warn Canadian travelers about the difficulty of holding others responsible for injuries sustained while vacationing abroad.
Klatt’s case was heard in the Ontario Superior Court, but St. Lucia’s negligence laws applied to the case because that’s where he was injured.
“I didn’t know there was a law in St. Lucia that no matter what, the plaintiff is responsible for 25% of everything,” Klatt told CBC News.
“We were careful and I slipped again, and [yet] I’m 25% responsible.”
After that deduction, Klatt was awarded nearly $790,000 in damages, plus the cost of future care, in a decision last year that found Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort and Spa negligent for the fall. which caused his injury.
But the trial is not over yet.
Sandals is now challenging the decision in the Ontario Court of Appeal. In an email to CBC News, a company spokesperson declined an interview request, citing a Sandals Resorts policy not to comment on legal matters.
A staircase “designed for someone to fall”: a lawyer
Klatt and his wife arrived at the resort on January 4, 2009. After dinner on the couple’s second night, they returned to their private villa where Klatt slipped and fell down the outside staircase leading to the suite’s plunge pool.
“There were no rails,” Klatt told CBC News. “I slipped from the second to last step, crashed into the wall and had severe pain in my left leg.”
Staircase design, poor lighting and a lack of handrails were all factors in Klatt’s downfall, according to Ontario Judge Lorne Sossin. And the combination of factors led the judge to conclude that the station was responsible for the injury.
“It was an innocent person coming down the steps designed for someone to fall off,” said Joe Falconeri, Klatt’s attorney.
When Klatt returned to Toronto, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed him with a ruptured left quadriceps tendon. Klatt underwent surgery to repair the injury, but it ruptured a second time in March of that year. Then 49, Klatt had to undergo another operation.
“It will never be the same again,” Falconeri told CBC News. “It’s very rare to have the quadriceps muscles and tendons torn from the patella – that’s a pretty serious injury.”
Doctors said Klatt would need a total knee replacement at some point, a factor the judge considered when awarding future care costs to the plaintiff.
Return to Investigate
Klatt says he only decided to sue Sandals nearly a year after his fall, when he returned to the resort in December 2009 to investigate.
“Once I learned how serious the injury was and my chances of skating again, kicking a soccer ball, coaching my son – doing all of that – went out the window, I wanted to see where I had fallen and why.”
The retired Toronto police detective and prominent private investigator – he was hired to investigate the murders of billionaires Barry and Honey Sherman in 2017 – toured the villa with a video camera and tape measure while staying in another part of the complex.
“I saw that the stairs had strange heights, depths and shapes,” he said. “I was shocked.”
The video Klatt took measuring the stairs was used as evidence in the case and allowed his attorney to have experts assess the design and engineering of the stairs.
Restrictions on International Injury Cases
Since Klatt’s injury, a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada decision has made it harder to test for hearing international personal injury cases in Canada, according to Falconeri.
“It limited those kinds of cases very significantly,” he told CBC News.
Concretely, Klatt fears this will mean other injured Canadians will struggle to find a lawyer to take on their case because of the much higher cost of litigating a case in another country.
“That doesn’t leave you with much recourse,” Klatt said. “I don’t think you would find too many lawyers who would take on that level of responsibility for something out of the country.”
Given the stricter test for determining whether a Canadian court has jurisdiction to hear a case — and how difficult suing can be — Toronto personal injury lawyer David Derfel says comprehensive insurance is essential for the holidays.
“When you’re traveling somewhere, there’s absolutely some risk involved,” Derfel said. “Take responsibility in your hands and make sure you have good insurance.”
Klatt echoes these concerns about insurance and hopes by sharing her story that Canadians will get a better idea of what they might face abroad.
“You really have to make sure your coverage is appropriate,” he said. “And know that if you get hurt, there can be a big fight on your hands.”