“The boat was on top of us before I saw it,” Quesnel, who is paralysed, told Justice Judith Jones in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday.
Jones was hearing Quesnel’s evidence in a lawsuit which he and Barry-Laso filed against the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Pigeon Point Heritage Park (PPHP) and the Attorney General.
Quesnel and Barry-Laso, a Spanish national, were struck by the pirogue on the afternoon of June 12, 2007. Quesnel, now 19, was 17 at the time of the accident. Barry-Laso was 16.
Yesterday, Quesnel was driven into the basement of the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain by his father Bernard and taken to Courtroom No 2 where the trial began.
Quesnel has been wheelchair-bound after recovering from serious injuries, and since there were no ramps at the front of the Hall of Justice, he had to be taken to the court through the basement where there is a ramp and elevators. In Courtroom No 2, Quesnel testified from the front of the bar table since his wheelchair did not allow him to go into the witness box.
Under cross examination by Senior Counsel Elton Prescott, who is representing the THA and the PPHP, Quesnel said he “did not see the boat” which struck him while he and Barry-Laso were bathing at the beach.
“Tell me Mr Quesnel, how many other boats were in the water?” Prescott asked.
“I cannot say,” Quesnel replied firmly.
“You must be able to say,” Prescott pressed.
“You are putting words in my mouth. I cannot remember,” Quesnel said.
“What distance was the boat from you when you first saw it?” Prescott asked.
“Right almost on top of us,” Quesnel replied.
“That’s the best you can do?” an agitated Prescott asked.
“I cannot be more specific than that,” the young man retorted.
In his written statement which was tendered into evidence but not read out in its entirety during the hearing, Quesnel said, “I did not see any signs or warnings posted on the shore in this area about me swimming there or about the danger of boats passing by, or any buoys in the water, to restrict where we could swim.”
Quesnel could not recall hearing the pirogue.
“We entered the water which was shallow at first. The next thing I remember is seeing a boat almost on top of us. I do not remember hearing the sound of any boat engine at all before I saw the boat. By the time I saw the boat there was no time to get out of the way,” he said. Barry-Laso attended court accompanied by her father Justin Barry. She went into the witness box but the defence chose not to cross-examine her.
However, Barry-Laso’s statement was tendered into evidence and, according to the document, she and Quesnel made plans to go to Pigeon Point the day before the accident.
“I do not remember anything after that. I remember waking up briefly in a hospital in Trinidad,” she said. Quesnel and Barry-Laso were both students at the United World College in Costa Rica and were on vacation in Tobago in 2007. The boat collision left Quesnel with multiple head injuries including lacerations at the midline of his scalp and temporal areas and a midline depressed skull fracture. He also suffered from haemorrhage of the brain and paralysis.
Barry-Laso also sustained head injuries including a cranial fracture and punctured brain membrane. She suffered paralysis of the left side of her body, laceration of the corner of the right eye to below the right ear, two compound fractures on her right arm and nerve damage to the upper right arm resulting in paralysis of the right thumb, ring and small fingers.
Nerve damage to her left shoulder resulted in the amputation of two phalanges (bones) on the left small finger. She also had fractures in five places on her left leg, three broken toes, and abrasions and severe scarring and disfigurement to the right arm and left leg.
Barry-Laso has since made a remarkable recovery although she walked with a severe limp and held on to her father for support as they left the court yesterday after the hearing which resumes today at 9 am.
Quesnel and Barry-Laso were hospitalised locally and abroad for many months after the accident and their medical expenses amounted to millions of dollars.
In the case of Barry-Laso, her medical bill and travel expenses associated with the trial is a whooping 286,583.13 euros (TT$2,774,124.60). Quesnel’s medical expenses to date stand at TT$3,025,303.58.
The families of the two victims are claiming damages for personal injuries and consequential negligence against the THA, PPHP and the Attorney General.
Among their claims are that the THA and PPHP failed to implement suitable measures to prevent water craft from traversing a route so close to shore which endangered sea bathers and specifically, endangered the health and safety of Quesnel and Barry-Laso.
They also filed the following complaints in their lawsuit:
Failure to take suitable and sufficient steps to ensure that there was a system for warning users of the facility that they were liable to be at the risk of injury from water craft;
Failing to warn the claimants (Quesnel and Barry-Laso) of the risk of injury caused by water craft traversing close to the shoreline;
Failing to mark at all or to adequately mark a route for water craft which would ensure they would not be a danger to sea bathers;
Failing to cordon off or otherwise hinder access to the sea by sea bathers in the vicinity of the channel through which water craft traversed;
Failing to provide users of the beach facility with suitable and sufficient safe access to the sea and failing to maintain such access so that the claimants could access same without risk of injury;
Failing to retain the services of and ensure the presence of qualified lifeguards for the safety of users of the facility;
Failing to take any of the above measures despite the fact that similar incidents had occurred not long before. Quesnel and Barry-Laso are being represented by Douglas Mendes SC, Vishma Jaisingh and Kerwin Garcia. Prescott, Algin Pascal and Phillip Lamonte are representing the THA and PPHP. The Attorney General is being represented by Russell Martineau SC, Deborah Jean-Baptiste-Samuel, Sean Julien, Meera Goalan and Sarfraz Alfaran.