Hana Engel’s life hasn’t been the same since May 9, 2018.
Engel, now 25, was operating her own yoga studio and leading an active lifestyle before attending a dinner party hosted by Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Cody Ceci — who was playing for the Ottawa Senators at the time — and his common law partner, Jamie Thompson.
According to the statement of claim regarding the incident filed July 23, per Aedan Helmer of the Ottawa Citizen, Engel and other guests were seated around an outdoor tabletop fireplace at approximately 9:00 p.m. in Ceci’s backyard in Stittsville, an Ottawa suburb. It was then that Thompson tried to refill one of the table’s burners with ethanol.
Upon squirting the fuel into the burner, the live fire from another section of the fireplace caught the stream and ran back up the bottle. In her panic as flames and ethanol began to shoot out of the bottle that was still in her hands, Thompson immediately threw it in Hana’s direction, according to the lawsuit.
Hana’s clothes quickly caught fire and “she was immediately engulfed in flames.”
“She was a human candle,” said Marc-Antoine Deschamps, spokesman for the Ottawa Paramedic Service, according to a July 2018 article by Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen.
Now, over 15 months since that fateful night, Engel is suing Ceci and others for more than $8 million in damages. She is seeking $6 million for “loss of income, loss of competitive advantage in the marketplace, and loss of economic opportunities,” an additional $500,000 for “pain and suffering, loss of amenities and loss of enjoyment of life,” and $300,000 in damages “for loss of housekeeping and homemaking capacity.”
Engel’s partner Jake Cardwell — who played alongside Ceci for the Ottawa 67’s during their days in the OHL — her parents, brother and sister are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Each are seeking totals between $200,000 and $900,000 for the value of “nursing, attendant care and other services,” loss of income and — in Cardwell’s case — “nervous shock” and “intentional infliction of mental suffering and emotional distress.”
Per the suit, Thompson — named a co-defendant in it — didn’t check “to determine if the burner had cooled and/or completely extinguished” before attempting to refill it.
The civil suit alleges no criminality and no charges were laid related to the incident.
It was Cardwell’s quick thinking that likely saved Engel’s life. After she ran to the grass, she raised her arms, covered her face and pursed her lips to prevent fuel and fire inhalation, as reported by Scanlan. Cardwell smothered her in an attempt to extinguish the flames before throwing water from a jug connected to a dog bowl on her face.
Second- and third-degree burns covered 35 percent of her body, including “her arms, legs, torso and face.” After being transferred to the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, her family was told her condition was “survivable.” However, doctors couldn’t assure them that she would make it through surgery.
Staff induced a three-week coma. During that time, 18 hours of plastic surgery were performed in which 19 to 20 skin grafts were completed.
Since then, her recovery has been slow and steady, but painful. Along with the injuries and scars that have permanently altered her appearance, Engel has had to deal with the emotional distress that the accident inflicted.
According to the suit, her “extensive medical, physiotherapy, psychotherapy and other rehabilitative treatment will continue for the rest of her life” and “it is unknown when Hana will be able to return to paid employment activities.”
It also alleges the event “was caused entirely by the individual or combined negligence of the defendants…” and outlines that alleged liability. It claims Thompson didn’t know how to properly operate the fireplace, failed to take safety precautions and “knew or ought to have known that the fireplace and ethanol were serious and recognized hazards.”
In regards to Ceci, it claims he “failed to inform himself and Thompson of the hazards,” failed to warn the invited guests and “failed to keep his premises safe.”
Finally, it claims both Ceci and Thompson were “intoxicated and unable to appreciate the danger … and ought not to have used dangerous or ignitable objects such as the fireplace.”
At this time, Ceci, Thompson and Clair de Lune Products Inc. — the manufacturer of the tabletop ethanol fireplace that stopped selling the product after the incident — haven’t filed a statement on the matter.
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