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United States tourist suing over 2017 fall at historic Nova Scotia lighthouse

The Five Islands Lighthouse is pictured in Lower Five Islands, N.S. (Source: NovaScotia.com) The Five Islands Lighthouse is pictured in Lower Five Islands, N.S. (Source: NovaScotia.com)
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HALIFAX -

An American tourist who alleges she was injured in a fall at Nova Scotia's historic Five Islands Lighthouse in July 2017 can proceed with her lawsuit, a Nova Scotia judge has ruled.

Mary Riddle of Pennsylvania is suing the Municipality of the County of Colchester and the Five Islands Lighthouse Preservation Society for unspecified damages. She claims she fell onto the second floor of the lighthouse from an internal ladder to the observation deck, but the extent of her injuries is not mentioned in a court ruling issued Thursday.

Supreme Court Justice C. Richard Coughlan said Riddle is suing the county for negligence and breach of duty under the Municipal Government Act.

The municipality applied to get the lawsuit thrown out by arguing it shouldn't be responsible for the conditions inside the lighthouse, but Coughlan dismissed the motion.

"In this proceeding I have found there are genuine issues of material fact to be determined," the judge wrote. "I am not prepared to deny Ms. Riddle's right to pursue her claim against the municipality." The judge said he would schedule a hearing at a later date.

The wooden, "pepper pot" lighthouse was built in 1913 at Sandy Point, N.S., on the Bay of Fundy's Minas Basin, and was relocated to its current location at the Five Islands Lighthouse Park in 2008. The county owns the land but the lighthouse is operated by the Five Islands Lighthouse Society through a lease with the municipality.

The society, Coughlan wrote, agreed in the lease to use the lighthouse as an ecotourism site and to be responsible for maintaining the building in a "professional and safe manner" with appropriate signage "to the satisfaction of the municipality." The municipality, meanwhile, agreed to maintain adequate fire and liability insurance for the "benefit of the parties as their interest may appear."

The judge said that while the lease continues to be in force, "there is no evidence the society has ever provided signage to the municipality for approval."

The judge said that prior to Sept. 9, 2019, the municipality did not perform work inside the lighthouse and that the society did not report to it concerning lighthouse operations. The society, Coughlan added, didn't seek or obtain authorization to conduct work inside the structure.

He said that when the municipality received Riddle's complaint from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour, it didn't notify the society or require it to "remedy the situation." Coughlan, however, said the municipality told the society that no one was to use the internal staircase of the lighthouse and that locks should be placed on the internal staircase hatch and the exterior door of the building.

"Did the municipality have responsibility for control over the condition of the premises or the persons allowed to enter the premises -- in this case the lighthouse?" the judge asked. That question, he said, is a "genuine issue of material fact for trial."

The Five Islands Lighthouse has been closed to the public since September 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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