City accepts responsibility in Westboro crash lawsuits

In the year since a double-decker OC Transpo bus slammed into the Westboro bus shelter station, a dozen families have filed formal lawsuits and eighteen more have had their lawyers signal they too will sue the City of Ottawa and the bus driver.

More than a dozen formal suits filed, 18 others have signalled they will also sue

A double-decker city bus struck a transit shelter at Westboro station the start of the afternoon rush hour on Jan. 11, 2019. Three people died and dozens were injured in the crash. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In the year since an OC Transpo double-decker bus slammed into the Westboro station's awning, a dozen families have filed formal lawsuits claiming about $50 million in damages and eighteen more have had their lawyers signal they too will sue the City of Ottawa and the bus driver.

A $60 million class action lawsuit is also headed to court this spring in a bid to be certified.

Judy Booth, Bruce Thomlinson and Anja van Beek were killed and nearly two dozen people were physically injured, many in life-changing ways, when the westbound bus crashed during the afternoon commute Jan. 11, 2019.

On Tuesday, the municipality admitted responsibility for compensating victims. The City of Ottawa and bus driver Aissatou Diallo are named in those civil cases.

"This memo is to confirm that the City and its insurers accept civil responsibility arising from the bus collision," wrote city solicitor David White.

The formal admission means the city and its insurers can focus on determining what the victims should receive financially, and not on deliberating who's legally responsible, he explained.

"The City's priority has been to ensure they are treated fairly, reasonably, and with compassion. Therefore, assuming this responsibility aims to reduce the burden of additional legal proceedings," wrote White.

The city had indicated to victims it would compensate them since shortly after the crash, he added, and has also advanced $3.5 million so far in insurance payments.

Lawsuits describe changed lives

The lawsuits describe the sheer horror of what the riders experienced that day. 

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Christina Lennox was flung from the upper level of the bus and found unconscious on the Transitway below. Her injuries were so severe she will never be able to meet the physical bar to take promotions and postings abroad, her claim describes.

Twenty-five-year-old Spenser Trafford was heading home to Carleton Place. Her claim described her legs being crushed as the bus seats crumpled like an accordion, and said as she waited to be extricated, she held the hand of a woman, trying to comfort her as she died.

Some passengers had emergency surgeries, others suffered infections. Some victims say in their claims they have found their homes suddenly couldn't accommodate their injuries, such as Marcelle Stevens, who lost both of her legs.

The lawsuits describe careers cut short and incomes cut off as they anticipate health care costs and psychological difficulties that could last lifetimes.

    'No one can rush these claims'

    One claim is close to being settled, according to Terry Shillington, the external lawyer hired by the city to deal with the cases, and who also settled the claims from the 2013 OC Transpo crash with a Via Rail train.

    But reaching settlements will take time as the victims assess what it will cost to manage in their homes and with their changed circumstances.

    "No one can rush these claims," Shillington told CBC News.

    The city doesn't have to wait until the separate, criminal process plays out, however, Shillington said.

    Diallo is scheduled to stand trial in March 2021 on criminal charges of dangerous driving causing death and causing bodily harm.

    When Ottawa Police laid those charges last August, the acting chief Steve Bell said the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the crash.


    Kate Porter


    Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.