Ontario man files lawsuit against Cineplex after choking on popcorn

A Cineplex Cinemas sign outisde theatres in Mississauga, Ont. on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Richard Buchan

TORONTO – An Ontario man who claims he nearly choked to death while eating popcorn in a movie theatre has launched a lawsuit against Cineplex, alleging the cinema chain and its employees failed to help him as he was suffocating.

In a statement of claim, 28-year-old Chadrick John Veenhof says the incident happened at a Cineplex theatre in Kitchener, Ont., in June 2009.

Veenhof alleges that as he was choking on the popcorn he had bought at the cinema, Cineplex staff “refused to and prevented him from receiving medical intervention,” causing him to suffer very low blood oxygen levels and a subsequent cardiac arrest.

“As a result of this accident, the plaintiff, Veenhof, sustained serious and permanent injuries to and about his body,” the statement of claim alleges.

In particular, Veenhof alleges Cineplex and its employees didn’t administer emergency medical care, prevented him from receiving medical intervention from certified patrons, failed to turn on the lights in the cinema and stop the movie, and failed to call emergency services in time or at all.

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As a result of what happened that night, Veenhof alleges he sustained serious injuries that included brain injury, some hearing loss, severe cognitive disfunction and scarring.

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“Veenhof alleges that he will sustain a permanent, partial disability for the rest of his life,” the statement of claim says.

A Cineplex spokeswoman said the details in Veenhof’s lawsuit are “allegations and not all of the facts.”

“The safety of our guests and employees is and always has been our top priority,” said Sarah Van Lange, Cineplex’s director of communications. “An unfortunate incident occurred at one of our theatres seven years ago that is currently before the court. Out of respect for those proceedings we are unable to discuss the details.”

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After choking on the popcorn, Veenhof was taken to a hospital where he was put into a coma, his statement of claim says.

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He went through procedures that included a tracheostomy – where an incision is made in the windpipe – and tendon release surgery, the document alleges.

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He also alleges he went through a variety of other treatments including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and personal support work, the statement of claim says.

Cineplex has denied Veenhof’s allegations and says in court documents that its employees were not negligent.

In a statement of defence, the company says that on the night of the incident, someone who witnessed Veenhoff’s collapse called 911 and was on the phone with a dispatcher. It said that Veenhof was breathing but was unresponsive.

A Cineplex employee took instructions from ambulance attendants with regard to how to treat Veenhof, the statement of defence says.

“At all times, the instructions were being provided by the ambulance attendants and Cineplex employees were relaying the plaintiff’s condition to them,” the document says.

Firefighters arrived and took over the medical emergency treatment of Veenhof, Cineplex argues.

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“All medical care that was provided to the plaintiff until he was taken to the hospital was under the instruction of medical personnel. The defendants therefore deny that it breached any administration of any emergency medical care as it was always under the instruction of emergency medical personnel.”

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Cineplex further argues that Veenhof was under the influence of marijuana at the time, which it alleges contributed to his collapse in the movie theatre.

The document also alleges Veenhof’s girlfriend failed to provide immediate first aid to the man and failed to call an ambulance in a timely manner.

“He failed to use proper care for his own safety, especially in light of his usage of an illegal substance,” the document says.

“At the time of the alleged accident, his faculties of observation, perception, judgement and self control were impaired and he was the author of his own misfortune.”

None of the allegations in the case have been proven in court.

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The lawsuit is set to go to a civil trial in Kitchener in March.

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