Quebec settles with people trapped on a Montreal highway during 2017 blizzard

Hundreds of people were stranded in vehicles overnight in Montreal during a massive snowstorm in March 2017. The Quebec government has now reached a settlement in a class action brought by on behalf of people affected.

Hundreds of cars were stuck overnight as officials bungled response

As a blizzard raged, a tractor-trailer jackknifed at around 6 p.m. on March 14 on a highway near Trudeau International Airport. Vehicles backed up behind it and the snow continued to fall. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

People who were stranded in their vehicles on a highway overnight during a blizzard two years ago will get a payout from the Quebec government.

Lawyers who brought a class action lawsuit against the province and the City of Montreal concluded a deal with Quebec this morning, two years to the day after the massive snowstorm.

Marlene Berman, who was trapped in her car for nine hours, said she was "elated" about the settlement and hoped it would prevent similar events in the future.

"It was never anything to do with the money, but it helps," Berman said. "It's comforting to know that we won. We were held captive and we were basically abandoned.

"Our government, our police force, our people who were supposed to be delegated to serve and protect us fell asleep. There's no other way of putting it."

(Hélène Simard/CBC)

Compensation ranges from $350 for those who were stuck on the highway for four hours or less to $1,100 for those who were trapped for 10 hours or more.

In addition, there is a 25 per cent bonus for people who fall into certain categories:

  • Children under 12;
  • People over 75;
  • Pregnant women;
  • People with medical conditions;
  • People who were hospitalized as a consequence;
  • Those who missed work because they were stuck.

The case against the City of Montreal is still being pursued. 

The wintry saga began during a heavy snowstorm on the evening of March 14, 2017, when a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Highway 13 just south of the Côte-de-Liesse Highway, near Trudeau International Airport on the west side of Montreal.

Other vehicles were stuck behind the truck, and snow began to pile up. A failure of communication and co-ordination between police, the transport ministry and local agencies made the situation worse.   

It was 4:30 a.m. the next day before police and firefighters began helping to move out the stuck vehicles, and by the time traffic was moving freely once again, more than 12 hours had passed.

In the aftermath, then-premier Philippe Couillard apologized for the government's poor response, and an investigation acknowledged "serious organizational shortcomings." 

It was 4:30 a.m. the next day before police and firefighters began helping to move out the stuck vehicles, and by the time traffic was moving freely once again, more than 12 hours had passed. (Alexandre Letendre/CBC)

Initial estimates after the event said more than 300 people were affected. Some reports said 300 vehicles were trapped on Highway 13 and around 100 more on an adjacent stretch of Highway 520 in Lachine.

Marc-Antoine Cloutier, a lawyer with the firm pursuing the lawsuit, said the total number of vehicles was closer to 600, and that around 2,000 people had signed up to the class action database. 

"There were some buses," he said. "This an area of Montreal where there are a lot of people in each vehicle", because of the proximity to the airport.

Cloutier said the next step would be for claimants to prove that they were there. 

With files from Steve Rukavina and Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin

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