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'It's not easy': Survivors of deadly Icefield tour bus crash near Jasper, Alta., file $17M lawsuit

Survivors of a tour bus crash in Jasper National Park that killed three people and injured 24 others have filed a lawsuit against the vehicle operator, seeking more than $17 million in damages. 

3 people died when Columbia Icefield tour bus rolled down embankment in July

Sweta Patel describes to reporters her recovery from injuries received in the Jasper crash. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

An Alberta woman who survived the deadly crash of a tour bus in Jasper National Park this summer says she lives with the pain of her injuries every day.

Sweta Patel's uncle died July 18 when a glacier sightseeing vehicle rolled off a road on the Columbia Icefield. 

The tour bus crash killed three people and injured 24 others.

Patel, 27, and her husband Suraj, 31, who live in High Prairie, Alta., both suffered serious injuries.

The couple are among six survivors — and the estate of a victim who died — who have filed a lawsuit against the tour company operators, seeking more than $17 million in damages.

Patel appeared at a news conference Wednesday in Edmonton in a halo head brace.

WATCH | Survivors sue tour operator over deadly Jasper bus crash:

Some of the survivors of a deadly tour bus rollover in Jasper National Park have filed a lawsuit against the tour operator for $17 million. 1:50

She has a C1 fracture in her neck which is still healing. She also suffered fractures to her temporal bone, orbital bone, ribs and scapula.  Patel said she has been unable to work and can no longer care for herself. 

If her injury doesn't heal, she will have permanent mobility issues in her neck, she said. 

Even so, she said she considers herself one of the lucky ones. 

"Though I survived, I am left with devastating mental and physical injuries," Patel said.

"I now live a completely dependent life, filled with a series of doctors and legal appointments." 

"I have over 20 fractures and the pain that I go through every day, it's not easy." 

Patel worked as a medical office assistant. She is trained as a nurse and was in the process of taking courses to become recognized as an RN in Alberta after moving to Canada from Kenya in January 2019.

'We hope this lawsuit will bring change'

The couple was planning to have children this year but due to their injuries, plans to expand their family are on hold.

Suraj Patel suffered a lumbar fracture, broken rib and scapula fracture. He has been unable to work as a pharmacist in High Prairie due to surgery he had on his clavicle bone.

Sweta Patel said she is not sure if she and her husband will recover. She said they are struggling financially and that the tour operator has offered no assistance. 

"We purchased a ticket with this company because they were well known and trusted," she said. "We were left by ourselves.

"We hope this lawsuit will bring change."

Sweta and Suraj Patel, seen in this undated photo, are suing the tour company that operated an off-road bus that rolled off a road on the Columbia Icefield. (Sweta and Suraj Patel)

Basil Bansal, a lawyer with Diamond and Diamond LLP — a firm specializing in personal injury claims — and victims addressed reporters in Edmonton Wednesday to provide details on their lawsuit.

The statement of claim lists seven plaintiffs including the estate of Kamleshbhai Patel of India. Patel was a passenger seated in the second last row of the bus. He died at the scene.

The list of defendants includes Brewster Travel Canada Inc, Viad Corp., Glacier Park Inc., Brewster Inc., Banff-Jasper Collection Holding Corp, and the unnamed driver.

The statement of claim alleges the affiliated companies acted "recklessly and unreasonably" in failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the tour bus and road were properly maintained and that the operator of the tour bus was qualified.

It further alleges the bus was operated by an "incompetent driver."

CBC News sought comment Wednesday from the tour company, which is known as Pursuit. A spokesperson issued a statement that didn't address the new lawsuit.

"Since the incident occurred, we have been committed to supporting those involved in the incident, their families and our staff with any immediate and ongoing needs," the statement said. "We continue to actively support a transparent and multi-agency investigation into the cause of this tragic accident."

Bansal said survivors have suffered in many ways, including spinal injuries, concussions, depression and PTSD.

"People cannot be replaced and safety procedures should not be ignored," he said.

"Many of the injuries sustained by passengers were permanent and catastrophic.

"Our law firm believes that this crash was preventable and that it occurred as a result of a variety of failings by the parent company. "

WATCH | Eyewitnesses describe Columbia Icefield roll over:

Three people are dead and 24 injured after a glacier sight-seeing bus rolled over near the Columbia Icefield in Alberta's Jasper National Park. 1:25

The lawsuit alleges that the company failed to take reasonable care that the bus was safe, failed to install seatbelts, failed to provide proper inspections and failed to properly train its drivers.

The all-terrain Ice Explorer lost control while carrying passengers on the road to the Athabasca Glacier. The bus, which was carrying 27 people, rolled about 50 metres down a moraine embankment before coming to rest on its roof.

What caused the rollover of the big-wheeled, off-road tourist bus remains under investigation by RCMP.

An RCMP spokesperson said Wednesday it could be three months before collision reconstructionists can finish their work and release a report on what happened to Alberta RCMP investigators. A mechanical inspection on the vehicle was completed in early August. 

"This inspection is only one portion of this much larger investigation," RCMP Cpl. Deanna Fontaine said.

In August, an application for a class-action lawsuit was filed by James H. Brown & Associates with the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary, alleging the tour bus operators acted recklessly and unreasonably. 

Named in that statement of claim are Brewster Travel Canada Inc., Viad Corp., Glacier Park Inc., Brewster Inc., Brewster Tours, Banff-Jasper Collection Holding Corp., and the unidentified driver of the coach.

The lead plaintiff in the class action filed in Calgary is Devon Ernest, 22, from North Battleford, Sask..

Ernest was on the tour with his girlfriend, Dionne Durocher, of Canoe Narrows, Sask., and his cousin, Winnie Ernest.

Durocher died at the scene. Devon Ernest suffered a concussion, a fractured wrist and lacerations to his head and hands.

The class action must be approved by a judge if it is to go ahead.

Rick Mallett, the lawyer leading the lawsuit filed in Calgary, said he expects the case will be certified as a class action in a few months. In the meantime, investigators with the firm are gathering evidence, he said. 

Mallett said the firm hired a helicopter to obtain video evidence of the Columbia Icefield layout and is working on 3D modelling of what occurred.

The firm also plans to conduct its own mechanical inspection of the vehicle once RCMP make the evidence available.

"We're still focused on driver error and the mechanical issues," Mallett said Wednesday. 
Multiple first responders were responding to the scene of a serious bus crash in the Columbia Icefield area of Jasper National Park in Alberta on Saturday. (CBC)

"Many of the mechanical aspects are still under RCMP seizure so we're still waiting for those to be released. And once they're released, our experts will be having a look at those.

"There has been a lot of action over the summer and into the fall. It will depend a little bit on the court's timetable, but I would hope over the next few months we're in court on our way to certification. 

The class action has 12 claimants, he said, but ultimately all the passengers on the bus are included in the claim unless they choose to officially opt out. 

The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar icefields in the world. It spills down from the mountains about 100 kilometres south of Jasper.

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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