Sydney tar ponds court action shut down after 11 years of wrangling
Court actions started in 2004 and have grown too complex, lawyers say
The law firm that represents Cape Breton residents who launched a class-action lawsuit claiming the Sydney tar ponds exposed them to contaminants has concluded the litigation should stop after 11 years of legal wrangling.
The Halifax-based law firm Wagners issued a statement late Tuesday saying the court action, which started in 2004, has grown too complex and costly after several major setbacks.
The plaintiffs were granted certification as a class in May 2012, but the federal and Nova Scotia governments persuaded the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to decertify the lawsuit in December 2013.
The Appeal Court decision came after lawyers for the two governments argued that a provincial Supreme Court judge erred in certifying the case because there are too many differences in the individual cases for the matter to be heard as a class-action.
As a result, court costs amounting to more than $740,000 were awarded to the two levels of government, to be paid by the four representative plaintiffs who launched the case.
The law firm and a partner firm agreed to cover the costs, but they have since failed in their efforts to have the case reconsidered.
Complexity & costs cited
In January, the Supreme Court of Canada denied lawyer Ray Wagner's request for an appeal, effectively ending the class action.
The law firm recently held a town hall meeting with residents, during which Wagner said the only other legal avenue would be to file individual claims, which he said would be costly.
"Unfortunately the number of people who responded with interest in proceeding individually did not meet minimum thresholds for such costly and complex litigation," Wagner said in the statement.
"Continuing with litigation, which would have to start from scratch, appeared to not be an option at this time due to the complexity, significant expenses required and the risk of costs. Effectively no remedy is available to the residents of modest means to bring this injustice to court."
The original lawsuit was filed by residents Neila MacQueen, Joe Petitpas, Ann Ross and Iris Crawford, who were seeking compensation and a medical monitoring fund for contamination resulting from the operation of the steel plant between 1967 and 2000.
MacQueen says she hopes the case, though over, made an impact.
"If it stops large conglomerated companies from coming in and building contaminated spots and hurting the people, that'll be wonderful," she said.