Hydro-Québec faces $4M lawsuit over worker's 2015 death

Family members and former colleagues of a man who died on the La Romaine construction site on Quebec's North Shore are suing Hydro-Québec for $4 million in damages.

Steeve Barriault's family says his death at the site the La Romaine hydroelectric dam project was preventable

According to court documents, Steeve Barriault was leaving the work site, after his supervisor voiced concerns the water levels were too high, when the excavator fell through the ice. (Radio-Canada)

Family members and former colleagues of a man who died on the La Romaine construction site on Quebec's North Shore are suing Hydro-Québec for $4 million in damages.

Steeve Barriault drowned on March 11, 2015, when the excavator he was driving fell through an ice-covered pit filled with water.

Barriault was working for Neilson-EBC, a construction company contracted by Hydro-Québec, to do excavation work on the site of its hydroelectric dam project.

Marc Boulanger, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said Hydro-Québec was negligent in its workplace safety standards and didn't put in place the proper precautions to prevent Barriault's accident.

In the court document filed at the Sept-Îles courthouse on March 8, 2018, the plaintiffs allege Hydro-Québec didn't carry out tests to ensure the ice field on which Barriault was working was safe.

They also allege there wasn't any security personnel monitoring the site when the accident happened at 3 a.m.

'Family tragedy'

Boulanger said the lawsuit is filed on behalf of 13 members of Barriault's family, as well as four co-workers who tried to break through the window of his cabin with a mallet to rescue him, in vain.

Steeve Barriault was 39 years old when he died in March 2015. (Submitted by Jean-Sébastien D'Amours)
"When you see your colleague die in front of your eyes, and you can't do anything, there are serious consequences," Boulanger said.

He said the men suffered nightmares and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

One man had to take several months off work.

Steeve Barriault's family was also devastated by their loss, said Boulanger. "It's a family tragedy."

Barriault's father Clément struggled with nightmares of his son calling out for him, said Boulanger. 

The family suffered another blow when Clément Barriault, who was a crab fisherman, died at sea in May 2017.

Boulanger said Barriault's son and brother worked at La Romaine when the accident happened.

His brother still does, which Boulanger said is a source of constant anguish for his own children and his mother, now widowed.

"The kids are worried their father won't come home, because their uncle never came home," Boulanger said.

Boulanger said the company never offered any compensation to Barriault's family or to the workers.

4 deaths prompt investigation

Barriault was among four men who died in separate incidents between 2009 and 2016 at La Romaine, forcing the company to halt work on a portion of the site in 2016.

At the time, Hydro-Québec launched an internal investigation and set up a special committee to analyze safety practices at every work site. 
Four workers died between 2009 and 2016 on the La Romaine work site. (Hydro-Quebec)

Hydro-Québec has not yet been served with the court documents, said spokesperson Serge Abergel, and will therefore not comment specifically on this case.

Abergel called Barriault's death a "tragic accident." He said every incident is taken very seriously and analyzed to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Hydro-Québec has since put in place several measures to make safety a priority within the workplace. It applies to managers, supervisors and workers, Abergel said.

"We want it to be part of our employees' DNA."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the plantiffs' lawyer was Marc Tremblay. His actual name is Marc Boulanger.
    Mar 15, 2018 12:49 PM ET