Only half of expected claimants have filed as Lac-Megantic class-action suit looms
Published Tuesday, April 22, 2014 2:26PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 23, 2014 7:49AM EDT
Lawyers for those who lost their homes or jobs in the Lac-Megantic rail disaster are urging claimants to come forward.
Lawyers are now urging everyone in the town – a town that still bears the scars of the July 6, 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in a massive conflagration – to register for a class-action lawsuit. The deadline for filing damage claims is less than two months away.
"If you don't do it you're taking a risk," said lawyer Jeff Orenstein.
So far more than 3,100 people have filed claims for damages, and Orenstein and his firm are hoping that number will rise to more than 6,000.
"I think the key here is if in fact we do succeed in a global settlement you don't want to be left out of that," Orenstein said.
The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway filed for bankruptcy protection within months of the train crash which is why the main legal target is the firm’s $25-million insurance policy but lawyers are also pursuing cases against the federal government, with class-action lawyer Joel Rochon accusing Ottawa of neglected its duties.
"Regulations were in place but there was a distinct failure to enforce those regulations," he said, adding that lawyers are also looking to go after the federal government in this case.
The lawyers say it’s impossible to know how much money may end up being distributed if the class action is successful but they expect the sum to be huge.
"We are necessarily talking in the neighbourhood of hundreds of millions of dollars," said Rochon.
The Quebec government alone has already spent $400 million cleaning up Lac Megantic, and the work is not yet completed.
"We are working hard to negotiate not only with MMA but companies close to MMA to increase the amount available," said Rochon.
A Sherbrooke judge begins hearings on June 9 to determine whether he will authorize the class-action lawsuit.
Those hearings are expected to last about three weeks, with a decision coming as early as this fall.