Residents prepare to file injury claims linked to tar ponds

Lawsuit can take two paths says lawyer - address the issues or head to court

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2004

A Halifax law firm is eye-balling multi-million dollar commitments from governments to clean up the tar ponds and coke ovens sites as its rising number of clients prepare to file claims of personal injury and property damage linked to the toxic spots.

"The question now is what are all those funds going to be used for," said Ray Wagner of the Halifax law firm Wagner and Associates, which is now representing about 290 plaintiffs in the pending lawsuit.

He said a balanced approach is needed, one which includes individuals who lived near the sites for extended periods of time and their "significant claims."

Details about what the clients' allegations may entail are expected in a statement of claims likely to be filed by the firm near the end of next week.

Following that, there are two paths the suit can take, said Wagner. "One is to try and address the issues, or, we can go the litigation route and go to trial," he said.

During Monday's throne speech, the federal government mentioned $500 million of federal funding for special remediation projects over the next 10 years.

The plaintiffs have been in limbo since the initial proposal of remediation was promised nearly 18 years ago, said Wagner. "Another 10 years is far too long." Previous documents filed by the law firm notifying the provincial government of its intent to sue - a necessary action provincially but not federally - states that contaminants and carcinogens emitted as a result of the defendants' operations impacted and still impact the properties of its clients. Those same contaminants are also linked to "extensive, severe and widespread damage to the physical and mental health and well being of the intended plaintiffs."

The past and continuing release of contaminants interfered with the plaintiffs' enjoyment of their lands and premises: exposure to these contaminants caused and continue to cause extensive and severe and widespread damage to the physical and mental health and well being of those intending to take action.

The defendants' conduct in relation to their responsibilities under the Environment Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act may result in some form of compensation, continued the documents.

Also, the defendants should be aware that their past_practices and their failure to clean up the sites would cause psychiatric injury to those planning to sue. This negligent conduct by the defendants "caused the intended plaintiffs to suffer from chronic anxiety about their own and their respective families' personal health, safety and well being. In the result, the intended plaintiffs suffer from recognized psychiatric illnesses, " states the document.

It's also alleged that there was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Wagner has said the civil case could take between two and six years and millions of dollars will likely be sought as compensation for the claimants.