BC Ferries offer 'a slap in the face': Queen of the North survivor

Some of the survivors of the sinking of the Queen of the North say they would rather go to court and fight than accept a proposed settlement from BC Ferries.
The Queen of the North sank March 22, 2006, near Gil Island off B.C.'s coast. This image was taken by a submersible robot. ((Transportation Safety Board))

Some of the survivors of the sinking of the Queen of the North say they would rather go to court and fight than accept a proposed settlement from BC Ferries.

Barney Dudoward, who said he was one of the last people to scramble off the Queen of the North as it was sinking off B.C.'s north coast nearly three years ago, said he's still plagued by emotional problems.

"In memory, concentration and anger — I'm short-tempered. I was never before," he told CBC News.

That's why he said an offer from BC Ferries of $2,500 to settle his claim for his pain and suffering is laughable.

"I thought it was just a joke," said Dudoward. "What are they doing to us? You know, we're in trauma, and they're just adding to the trauma."

Two people are missing and presumed to have died when the ferry sank. Ninety-nine passengers and crew survived after the vessel sank near Gil Island in March 2006.

BC Ferries is offering the 37 individuals and two families a share of a total payout of $100,000.

Couple lost everything

Survivor Maria Kotai and her husband were moving from Kitimat when the ferry sank with all their possessions on board in a moving van. They've been offered $5,000, an offer that Kotai called insulting.

"As you can see from the offers, we are given another slap in the face," she said in an email to CBC News. "After almost three years of waiting for a fair settlement, which [David Hahn, BC Ferries CEO] said he would give us, this is the value they place on our lives.

Maria Kotai says a $5,000 offer by BC Ferries doesn't come close to compensating for the losses she and her husband sustained in the sinking of the Queen of the North, which was carrying a moving van full of their possessions. ((CBC))

"The amount of torment and aggravation we have been put through and continue to deal with each day has made no significant impact on them. Basically, they do not care."

The offer from BC Ferries was contained in a letter written by Gary Wharton of Bernard and Partners, dated Feb. 5, to James Hanson, the lawyer representing some of the survivors in a class-action lawsuit.

The letter argues that most of the claimants were only upset by the incident itself and had limited grounds for claiming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because the evacuation and rescue were conducted quickly and without injury to most.

"Much of the self-reporting of symptoms by passengers relates not to the trauma of the event but to thoughts of 'what might have been.' This would fall into the category of 'upset' rather than PTSD, which, given the nature of the evacuation and rescue, is not surprising," said Wharton in the letter.

"The evacuation was conducted in very short order, and the evacuees spent a very limited time in lifeboats or life rafts prior to being transported to Hartley Bay and the comfort of the local citizens."

BC Ferries also offered the claimants compensation for legal claims and a two-hour consultation with the ferry company's lawyer if they wished to argue for a larger settlement.

The families of the two people who died in the accident recently settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. The lawyer for one of those families said they decided to settle because the cost of a civil trial was too high.