A $30-million lawsuit has been filed on behalf of victims of the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake against the mall owner, an engineering firm, the Province of Ontario and the City of Elliot Lake.
At a news conference on Friday afternoon in Elliot Lake, lawyer Douglas Elliott confirmed the class-action suit was filed on Friday in the Superior Court of Justice against several defendants, including the Eastwood Mall Corp., the owner of the mall. The head of the corporation, Robert Nazarian, has also been named in the suit.
"This was a preventable tragedy in my opinion," Elliott said. "There were plenty of warnings that trouble was coming."
Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and Lucie Aylwin, 37, died when the mall's roof caved in on June 23, and more than 20 others were hurt, though none seriously.
The lawsuit also targets the Province of Ontario and the City of Elliot Lake.
"The Algo Centre Mall had repeated problems with it roof before the collapse," Elliott said. "The Ministry of Labour had been in to inspect the site several times because it posed a threat to the people working in the mall area. It is our claim that the work done by the [ministry] was ineffective. Indeed the results speak for themselves."
The City of Elliot Lake was named because it has a role in inspecting buildings and has the power to request remedial action, Elliott said at the news conference.
An unnamed engineering firm has also been named in the Notice of Action filed Friday. Elliott said he did not know the name of the firm but it apparently carried out an inspection of the mall roof within the past year and said it was in sound condition.
The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Jack and Elaine Quinte, who owned Hungry Jack's restaurant in the mall's food court where the collapse occurred.
Elaine Quinte described her experience to those gathered at the press conference.
"I began to be struck by falling debris myself as my employee and I raced to get out of the area, terrified that we were going to be killed. It was a horrifying experience and I still suffer loss of sleep and I get overcome with emotion whenever I think of the events of the day."
Her husband said there had been problems previously at the mall.
"About one year ago, a large piece of concrete came crashing through the roof of the Hungry Jack's Restaurant, narrowly missing my wife, Elaine. We brought this dangerous situation to the attention of the mall management and the City of Elliot Lake. We were not aware of any corrective action being taken by either," Quinte said.
A lawyer representing the mall's owner was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit, but has previously said the shopping centre had received $1 million worth of renovations and had been inspected on a regular basis.
'Litigation always difficult'
Representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Elliott, from the law firm Roy Elliott O'Connor, lawyer Roland Aube from Elliot Lake, and Jeff Broadbent with the law firm Feifel Broadbent Gualazzi in Sault Ste. Marie.
"Litigation is always a difficult process for people but it is one way of securing justice for those who have been injured as a result of the carelessness of others," Elliott said.
He urged the province to "do the right thing" and set up a compensation scheme in the coming weeks to help the people and businesses affected.
"The people of Elliot Lake should not have to wait years for this case to make its way through the courts, they should get compensation now," the lawyer said. "The province can then look to others who have been careless and may be in a position to contribute, and get reimbursed by them later."
None of the allegations contained in the lawsuit have been tested in court.
Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has ordered a public inquiry into the roof collapse and the Ontario Provincial Police force has begun a criminal investigation.