A local luge coach has categorically denied allegations brought against him in B.C.’s Supreme Court by a Whistler luge racer, who claimed his coach’s neglect, and pattern of abuse, harassment, and bullying led to the teenager’s “catastrophic” 2019 injury at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
In the civil suit, filed in April, Garrett Reid alleged that coach Matthew McMurray subjected him to abuse and neglect while the then-16-year-old was a member of the Canadian National NextGen team from 2018 to 2019, culminating in a crash on Nov. 16, 2019 that reportedly led to a litany of injuries.
The competitive racer reportedly sustained a blow to the head in the crash, leaving him in a coma for months and, eventually, fighting to walk again. In his original court filing, Reid alleged that, during training in the week leading up to the November injury, McMurray directed him to “begin adding strips of sand paper, one at a time, to his sled,” a technique used to “reduce control of the sled and, thereby result in faster run times,” the filing stated.
Reid, who is originally from West Vancouver, claimed he had never used the technique before, and said he told McMurray he felt unsafe after completing a run with three strips of sand paper on his sled, requesting he return to two.
As a result, Reid alleged his coach subjected him to “verbal, psychological, and physical abuse regarding Garrett’s request to reduce the sand paper strips, and he continued to pressure Garrett into increasing the number of sand paper strips. McMurray told Garrett he needed to use three strips,” the suit went on.
In his response to the notice of civil claim, filed in June, McMurray denied “ever subjecting the Plaintiff to any verbal, psychological and physical abuse, as alleged or at all,” and also denied directing Reid to add strips of sand paper to his sled. Instead, he said he directed the luger to add strips of duct tape to his sled to “combat the Track’s humid condition,” which the filing claimed is a standard technique set out in the official rules used to assist with changing the angle of a sled. McMurray also alleged that Reid “never” expressed his safety concerns as a result of using tape on the sled, and that he “consistently” trained with duct tape on his sled from Nov. 7, 2019 onwards “without any issues or concerns.”
On the day of the crash, Nov. 16, Reid claimed he was participating in his first training session of the day, when McMurray placed him at the men’s start, the highest luge start on the Whistler track. According to his civil claim, the usual practice and protocol is for athletes to start at a lower start on the track “until they are accustomed to a new set-up,” as the lower starts result in reduced speeds.
In his response, McMurray does not specifically deny starting Reid on the men’s start on Nov. 16, 2019, noting how he worked his way up to the men’s start over the course of training.
“At the beginning of the training season, the Plaintiff started from the ladies’ start and then gradually progressed to the men’s start,” the court document read. “Prior to the day that the Injury occurred, the Plaintiff had completed training runs safely and consistently from the men’s start.”
On the day of the injury, Reid said he struggled to control his sled as he rounded corner 15, before crashing as he exited corner 16, nicknamed “Thunderbird Corner” and the fastest section of track. The right side of his helmet purportedly struck a short wall at a high rate of speed, the same point of impact on his helmet, he claimed, as in an accident in Austria from months earlier.
McMurray countered in his filing by alleging that Reid’s crash and subsequent injury were caused in whole or in part by his own negligence for, among other factors, failing to exercise “reasonable care” for his own safety; misusing his equipment; failing to use proper equipment; failing to follow the advice of treating medical practitioners; competing when his ability to do so was “impaired or compromised by fatigue, the consumption of alcohol or the ingestion of drugs;” and competing when his ability to do so was “impaired by prior injuries or existing medical conditions.”
McMurray’s response also claimed negligence on the part of Reid’s mother, Leesa (incorrectly referred to as “Lessa” in the suit), for, among other factors, allowing him to compete when his ability to do so was “impaired or compromised by fatigue, the consumption of alcohol or the ingestion of drugs;” allowing him to compete when his ability to do so was “impaired by prior injuries or existing medical conditions;” and for failing to report the aforementioned to McMurray.
The Austria crash
According to Reid’s suit, prior to the Whistler injury, in February 2019, he was involved in a separate crash in Austria while training for the upcoming Junior World Luge Championship. The crash reportedly resulted in Reid’s sled flipping up and impacting the right side of his helmet, equipment that had been issued by Luge Canada. Following that crash, Reid allegedly requested medical attention from McMurray, “who refused and told Garrett to stop asking,” the suit claimed.
McMurray denies this allegation as well, claiming Reid never requested medical attention nor informed his coach that he was “injured in any way,” including of the healed facial fractures the luger said were later discovered through medical imaging.
Partly a result of his diminished performance results, Reid claimed McMurray “heightened his verbal and psychological abuse” following the crash, subjecting the athlete, according to his suit, to “daily bullying, humiliation, hazing, threats, and intimidation.”
McMurray, in turn, denied ever engaging in “reckless and abusive coaching and behaviour” towards Reid.
Reid’s suit also said neither McMurray nor Luge Canada took steps to replace his helmet following the Austria crash, and that he was required to continue wearing it for the duration of the 2019 championship and subsequent season, including, on Nov. 19, 2019, the day of his crash at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
McMurray claimed the helmet was never replaced because Reid did not report hitting his head in the Austria accident, nor did he or his family ever request a new helmet.
A replacement helmet would have been “readily available” to Reid following the crash had he reported he hit his head, which follows Luge Canada’s standard concussion protocol, according to the response.
McMurray opposed the granting of any relief sought by Reid, who is seeking general, special, aggravated, and punitive damages, as well as in-trust damages for care provided by family members.
“The selfish, high-handed, and callous conduct of McMurray warrants condemnation of the court through awards of aggravated and punitive damages,” Reid’s civil claim argued.
On July 21, McMurray filed a third-party notice against Reid’s parents, which he accuses of negligence in their son’s crash, for financial relief recouping his legal fees, among other costs.
Whistler Sport Legacies, BC Luge, and Luge Canada respond
Also named as defendants in Reid’s suit are the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society (WSLS), which operates the Whistler Sliding Centre; Luge Canada; and the B.C. Luge Association; while Kenneth Reid, appointed co-committee of Garrett’s person and estate, is listed as a plaintiff as well.
All three filed their own responses to the civil claim in June, and all three denied liability for Reid’s accidents and subsequent injuries, as alleged.
“Luge Canada says that as an experienced luge athlete, the Plaintiff had full understanding, awareness, and knowledge of the inherent risks, dangers and hazards of the sport of luge and accepted them voluntarily in order to participate in the sport,” Luge Canada said in its response.
Following the November 2019 injury, Reid claimed that, in the 2021 carding cycle, Luge Canada “failed to submit a supported nomination for Garrett’s [Athlete Assistance Payments] injury card, causing Garrett to be removed from the program,” contrary to his contract with the national sport organization, his suit claimed.
In its response, Luge Canada said it did apply for Reid’s 2021-22 injury card, but Sport Canada informed the organization he “did not qualify for an injury card unless he was returning to the sport in the next six months.” Luge Canada noted it was “not involved in, and had no determination over, whether to approve or deny” the card.
In response to Reid’s claim for health-care costs, the WSLS denied he is a “beneficiary” under the definition of the Health Care Costs Recovery Act. The society denied Reid has received health-care services as defined in the same act, and also denied the provincial government has made payments for health-care services on Reid’s behalf arising from the injury.
None of the above claims have been proven in court.