Vancouver fire captain awarded major payout after career-altering crash

May 10 2023, 8:08 pm

The BC Supreme Court has awarded a fire captain more than $1.5 million after he was injured in a rear-ending incident.

The collision in 2015 led to injuries that impacted John Mantei’s career, family life, and even pastimes, according to the judgment. 

The court documents detail the collision where Mantei (who was 50 years old at the time) was on his way from a night shift when he came to a full stop because of a crash blocking his way south on the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Seconds later his vehicle was rear-ended by another car. According to the judgment from Justice William Veenstra, the driver “had not seen the road blockage ahead and was travelling at full highway speed.”

“Mr. Mantei’s evidence at trial was that the next thing he remembers is being on the other side of the accident scene, parked on the side of the road, and wondering what had happened. While there is a gap in his memory, he does not specifically remember losing consciousness.”

After the collision, Mantei was strapped to a spinal board and taken to hospital. Veenstra added Mantei said he does not remember the ambulance ride. 

“Grief and sense of loss of self”

The next day he visited his family doctor who assessed what he described as significant soft tissue injuries.

His doctor recalled that Mantei was “obviously very shocked and relayed that he may have lost consciousness, but that it was not very clear.”

About two months after the crash, Mantei’s doctor said his patient-reported symptoms like poor sleep, headaches, difficulty with problem-solving, and moments of anxiety. At the time there were improvements to his balance and right knee. 

The judge also heard from Mantei’s former coworkers and family, who described changes to his demeanour. 

When Mantei was able to resume coaching soccer, his daughter, who was his assistant coach, told the judge her father seemed to have “very little patience, was sometimes short with the players, that his drills were very repetitive, and that at times he seemed to be just going through the motions.”

“At times, she felt undermined as a coach, and these issues began to impact their father-daughter relationship,” she said.

With some apprehension and worry that he was forgetful and disorganized, Mantei returned to work in January. He was again focused on being promoted to Battalion Chief. 

However, he admitted to facing challenges during shifts and continued to report post-concussion symptoms, concerns with concentration and balance, and pain in his neck, back, and knee. 

He also began seeing a counsellor who noted concerns about stress, anxiety, nightmares, as well as “grief and sense of loss of self and of the work invested over his career for job advancement/promotion.”

“Retirement his only realistic choice”

Mantei said he would only ever take a few sick days in his career, but he was embarrassed when senior management started questioning his attendance. 

“For Mr. Mantei, retirement was a struggle, as before the [crash], he had plans to go further with the VFRS, to really make a difference at the management level, and to retire at age 59 with five years at a management salary determining his pension,” the judgment reads. “However, his evidence was that he ultimately recognized that the limitations on his physical, mental, and emotional health since the [crash] made retirement his only realistic choice.”

Mantei retired in 2020 when he was 54 years old. 

That year, he was also approached by a high-level soccer association, Coastal Football Club, who asked if Mantei was interested in returning to coaching. But he declined the opportunity and decided not to return to coaching.

“His evidence was that he had not been happy with the way he was treating the players in recent years, and his ongoing inability to deal with the physical aspects of coaching was also a concern.”

Mantei awarded in cost of damages

According to the May 5 judgment, Mantei continues to experience anxiety, depression, and nightmares and lives through injuries. 

“Other than the improvement to his right knee… the evidence is that his physical symptoms have not improved and that his psychological issues have actually worsened since the [2015 crash].”

According to the judge, defendant Rafatullah Afzali admitted liability.

However, Afzali argued Mantei downplayed his pre-existing knee condition “to the symptoms he exhibited in the years after the [crash] and that he similarly downplayed the underlying psychological issues arising from his many years of trauma as a firefighter.”

Veenstra disagreed with the defendant’s argument. 

Mantei was awarded $1,020,000 for loss of earning capacity, $280,000 for care in the future, $175,000 for non-pecuniary damages, and $49,599.45 for special damages.

Nikitha MartinsNikitha Martins

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