Edmonton

Judge certifies $20M class-action lawsuit in Fort McMurray gas explosion

A $20-million lawsuit against Atco Gas and Pipelines Ltd. over an explosion in Fort McMurray after the devastating 2016 wildfire has been certified a class action.

Suit seeks compensation for homeowners who suffered financial and other losses

Several homes were destroyed in the explosion which took place during the wildfire evacuation. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC Edmonton )

An Alberta judge has certified a $20-million class-action lawsuit against Atco Gas and Pipelines Ltd. over an explosion in Fort McMurray after the devastating 2016 wildfire.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn certified the class action in Edmonton Wednesday, Higgerty Law and James H. Brown and Associates said in a joint news release.

"It means that the people who have been affected have some hope now of the prospect of a more efficient, economic way of resolving their claims that might otherwise go unresolved," Higgerty Law principal Pat Higgerty told CBC News.

When the statement of claim was first filed, the claimants were seeking $10 million in damages. The claim has since been amended several times. The $20 million figure is only an estimate, Higgerty said. It includes damages for financial losses as well as emotional and psychological suffering, he said.

The explosion in the Dickinsfield subdivision happened shortly after Atco reinstated the gas supply to the community after the May 2016 wildfire, but before the evacuation was lifted, the law firms said.

Aerial shot taken by Wood Buffalo Emergency Services after a gas explosion at 118 Clenell Crescent, Fort McMurray. (RMWB)

The explosion destroyed several homes and damaged others. The law firms said occupants of the affected homes "suffered significant financial losses for destroyed personal items, living expenses while trying to repair their homes, and serious mental distress."

Higgerty said his firm has been hired by just under 50 homeowners whose homes are within a 0.25-kilometre radius of "ground zero." Several other homeowners who live outside that radius but within a 0.5-kilometre radius have been in contact, he said.

"How many more homeowners come forward remains to be seen," he said.

Gabriel Brophy-MacLean said he bought a house in 2013 that was about 100 metres away from the explosion. He's part of the class-action lawsuit.

He said the explosion damaged his roof and the windows and insulation on his house, blew open the refrigerator door  and knocked his TV off the stand. He said repairs cost him $60,000 to $70,000.

"It's great that we actually made a step forward, it's only been three years," he said after learning the lawsuit had been certified. "It's definitely a big step from where we were before, that's for sure. I know it's not the end of the line yet, but at least we're that much closer to seeing what will happen or who's responsible."