September 27, 2018 8:29 am
Updated: September 27, 2018 8:31 am

Halifax billionaire taken to small claims court over damage to ’94 Toyota Celica

FILE - John Risley, president and CEO of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Friday, Feb. 15, 2002.

Andrew Vaughan/ The Canadian Press

Halifax billionaire John Risley, one of Canada’s richest people and a leading philanthropist, represented himself in small claims court over a $3,000 claim from a tradesman – and mostly lost.

Risley, the co-founder of Clearwater Fine Foods with business interests worldwide, was sued by Ralph Gordon Spares, a contractor doing renovations on Risley’s home in a posh neighbourhood in south-end Halifax.

Spares sued Risley for damage to his 1994 Toyota Celica, after a piece of wood from an outdoor garden structure fell on it in June 2017.

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“The claimant takes pride in this vehicle,” small claims adjudicator Eric Slone said of Spares in a written decision released Wednesday.

“He has not yet had it repaired because he cannot afford the $2,965.62 cost that has been estimated. He continues to drive the car but wants to have it fixed and seeks to hold the defendant responsible.”

Risley, who represented himself at an August hearing, argued he shouldn’t be held 100 per cent responsible for the damage, and questioned whether it made sense to fix a car with a resale value of no more than $5,000.

But Slone said the Celica wasn’t a write-off and was worth being fixed.

The real question, Slone said, was the degree of responsibility for both Risley and Spares.

Slone notes Risley had no idea his pergola was in disrepair and simply assumed it was safe. He said the billionaire was “partially at fault” for not ensuring the structure was stable.

“However, the defendant also had a duty to ensure that he was parking in a safe place. I would assess him with 20 per cent liability, with Mr. Risley incurring 80 per cent,” Slone ruled.

Spares also sought compensation for “multiple trips” to Risley’s waterfront mansion in Chester, N.S., in order to serve the claim.

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But Risley pointed out he was often at his Halifax office, and no one contacted him to arrange service.

“I believe that the claimant acted unreasonably in making multiple long drives in the hope of finding the defendant at home. I will allow $100 as the reasonable cost of service,” said the judge.

“The total payment order will be for $2,572.20.”

Risley is ranked 88th among Canada’s richest people, according to Canadian Business magazine. In September 2016, he gave $25 million to Halifax’s Ocean Frontier Institute.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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