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Lac-Mégantic Victims Challenge Corporations Behind Deadly Explosion

Death toll climbs to 42 as environmental costs continue to mount

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Victims of the train crashed which devastated the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec have filed suit against the corporations behind the devastation. (Photo: Reuters)Two residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec have filed a class action lawsuit against the corporations behind the July 6 train derailment and explosion which killed nearly fifty people and devastated the small Canadian town.

Yannick Gagne and Guy Ouellet, who together own the Musi-Cafe—a bar that was crowded with people the night it was destroyed by the blast—are seeking damages from the Maine-based Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A), Irving Oil, World Fuel Services and its subsidiary Dakota Plains Holdings, which extracted the crude oil the train was carrying.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the plaintiffs filed a motion Monday in Quebec Superior Court seeking to authorize a class-action suit against the railway company. On Wednesday, they amended the motion to include the oil and extraction companies.

The unattended train was carrying 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale fields to an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick when it derailed initiating an explosion and fireball which engulfed the small downtown.

Meanwhile, the death toll for the disaster has risen to 42 after four more bodies were discovered Thursday. Eight more people remain unaccounted for though are presumed to be dead.

The impact on the town of 6,000 has been severe. Beyond the crippling effect of the casualties, the untold environmental costs continue to unfold.

An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 liters of oil spilled into Lac-Mégantic, according to Quebec’s Environment Minister. And, as the Globe and Mail report, traces of oil were visible in the Chaudière River "and the air was pungent with the scent of oil."

"Multi-coloured sheens could be seen on the surface of the water in areas where the current slowed, and the grass along some stretches of the shoreline was brown and straw-like," they continue.

Following the accident, finger pointing prevailed among the major corporations involved.

Edward Burkhardt, CEO of MM&A as well as its much larger parent company, Rail World Inc., had initially attempted to blame local firefighters before claiming the fault lay with a train employee for not properly setting the brakes—despite the fact that he has continuously opposed arguments by railway employees who have long-insisted that one-man crews were too dangerous.

Similarly, a spokesman for Irving Oil—whose crude fueled the small town's incineration—told the Associated Press, "We did not own or control the crude oil or its transportation at any time."

Of the pending suit, the Press Herald continues:

The motion claims that the companies failed to ensure the oil was properly secured and safely transported. The lawsuit would seek compensation for any person or business affected directly or indirectly by the disaster.

It was not known Thursday when the court will rule on the motion.

If a Quebec Superior Court judge approves the motion, the lawsuit could be among the largest in Canadian history, though according to Jeff Orenstein, a lawyer from one of the firms working on the suit, no dollar amount on the damages sought will be available for some time.

“It will require interviews with the people of the city and expert evaluators as well,” Orenstein said. “There is no number I can pin down without much further research and expertise.”

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