A proposed class-action lawsuit filed at the Ottawa courthouse is seeking a total of $60 million in damages for passengers on board the double-decker bus that crashed into a transit shelter last Friday, and for any individuals who witnessed the deadly collision and were affected by what they saw.
The bus crash on Jan. 11 claimed the lives of three civil servants and left 23 other people injured, some critically.
The notice of action for the class-action suit, filed on Thursday by Merchant Law Group LLP, names the City of Ottawa as the sole defendant. The document makes a number of allegations of negligence by the city and its public transit service, OC Transpo, and claims members of the class action have suffered severe physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, out-of-pocket expenses and loss of income as a result of the collision.
Evatt Merchant, an Ottawa-based lawyer with the firm behind the suit, said the representative plaintiff in the case — a Kanata resident who was aboard the bus when it crashed — wants the suit to be about more than getting compensation for the victims of the collision.
“Because it’s a class action, they will also have to look at the umbrella issue of safety deficiencies, root causes,” Merchant said in a phone interview on Friday.
“We don’t accept that this accident was simply caused by driver error or bad weather. There would be a host of contributing factors, and we want to make sure that the evidence comes out on the overall issue of safety as well.”
None of the allegations contained in the notice of action has been proven in a court of law. Ottawa police continue to investigate the possible causes of last Friday’s bus crash.
A class-action suit has to be certified by a judge before it can proceed. A judge also gets the final say on who qualifies to be a class-action member. (Individuals who fall under that definition can choose to opt out of the class action.)
The notice of action filed on Thursday proposes class-action members include:
- passengers aboard the double-decker bus at the time of crash
- individuals who were “waiting on the platform or in the shelters at the Westboro transitway station” at the time of the crash
- individuals who were “otherwise in and around the Westboro transitway station” at the time of the crash and witnessed the incident
- family members of class-action members “entitled … to assert claims pursuant to the Family Law Act”
“It’s heartbreaking to imagine what the families are going through,” Merchant said.
In a statement attributed to city solicitor Rick O’Connor, issued by the city late Friday afternoon, the city said it recognizes “the likelihood” of legal claims stemming from the fatal bus crash in Westboro and said the municipality has given notice to its insurers and engaged its external claims adjusters.
Two of the city’s insurance policies – automobile and general liability – are “likely” to be triggered in this class-action case because of the nature of the allegations, O’Connor said. Each policy has a $3-million deductible, he added, meaning the maximum the city will pay out is $6 million.
It’s expected external counsel will be hired to handle the class action and any additional lawsuits that may flow from last Friday’s collision, the statement said.
The city has yet to be served with the class-action claim, the statement noted.
The leading plaintiff in the suit is Marcel Pinon, a career civil servant who was commuting home from work downtown when the Route 269 bus slammed into the overhang of a shelter at the Westboro station, Merchant said.
He has “good knowledge” of transportation and safety issues, Merchant said, and wants to be part of the public process as the city deals with the consequences of the deadly collision, adding that the plaintiff approached his law firm following the crash.
“There’s a lot about him that was and is attractive in terms of someone who went through this tragedy and also has a very solid background to be a spokesperson on behalf of the class,” Merchant said.
Merchant said Pinon does not wish to speak to media at this time.
Some lawsuits filed after 2013 bus crash still outstanding
The City of Ottawa was served with 39 individual lawsuits after an OC Transpo double-decker bus hit a Via Rail train in Barrhaven the morning of Sept. 18, 2013, killing six people.
To date, 35 of those suits have been settled for a total of just under $9.7 million, leaving four outstanding, according to an emailed statement attributed to deputy city solicitor David White.
“Confidentiality prevents the city from disclosing the specific amount of any individual settlement,” the statement said.
The total damages initially claimed amounted to approximately $26 million, according to the city.
In his statement on Friday, O’Connor noted that the proposed class-action suit arising out of the Westboro bus crash “does not … preclude other plaintiffs from commencing their own separate lawsuits.”
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