Via derailment passengers sought for class action

Two Ontario law firms pursuing a class-action lawsuit have teamed up to sign Via Rail passengers hurt in Sunday's fatal train derailment in Burlington, Ont.

Two Ontario law firms pursuing a class-action lawsuit have teamed up to sign Via Rail passengers hurt in Sunday’s fatal train derailment in Burlington, Ont.

The Toronto firm of Falconer Charney has joined with Windsor-based Sutts, Strosberg to sign passengers on the Toronto-bound train that jumped the rails while switching tracks, killing three Via Rail engineers who were riding in the locomotive.

The Windsor firm handled a class-action suit in a 1999 Via derailment in Thamesville, Ont., that killed two crew members and injured 77 passengers and crew. The company settled and paid damages in that case.

About 45 passengers were injured in Sunday's derailment.

Some passengers walked away from the scene, while others were airlifted to nearby hospitals with serious injuries.

Charney’s firm has posted a message about the derailment on its website, asking passengers who were aboard the train to contact them.

Before any class-action lawsuit can proceed, it must first be approved by a judge.

"This is an appropriate case for all of the passengers to band together and start one lawsuit with one judge determining once and for all who was responsible for this accident," Charney told CBC News on Tuesday.

"There were at least 60 passengers who were trapped in this train and that would have experienced a terrifying event and many of them did sustain injuries."

Charney said his firm had spoken to a "significant number" passengers but declined to give the exact number.

"The passengers that have contacted us all have experienced symptoms of terror," said Charney. "They are having ongoing chronic headaches, panic, they're reliving the event, they're not sleeping at night, they're having nightmares."

He said the amount of potential compensation will depend on severity of injuries, but said it could total "at least several thousand dollars and perhaps significantly more per passenger."

TSB investigation continues

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the derailment and the locomotive’s event recorder, which may be able to tell investigators how fast the train was travelling, has been recovered.

Meanwhile, police say the track blocked by Sunday’s derailment will be clear by Tuesday afternoon.

Burlington police Sgt. Dave Cross said investigators plan to remove the train's engine on Tuesday, and expect the scene to be cleared shortly afterward. The passenger cars were removed Monday afternoon.

Cross said police remain at the scene of the accident to help with security, but are no longer involved in the investigation since there's no indication of a criminal element to the derailment. 

Cross also said police have now heard from all but five passengers who were unaccounted for after Sunday's crash — people believed to have left the scene on their own accord because they were not injured.

Marc Beaulieu, Via Rail's chief of transportation, said Tuesday the company's main concern is looking after the families of the dead employees, plus the Via staff and passengers who survived the crash.  

He refused to comment about potential lawsuits that may result from the derailment.

"My main concern at this point is the families and our employees," he said Tuesday during an interview on CBC News Network. "These other issues will be taken care of by the experts in that area, and I’ll just keep focusing on the families."  

"The key question is what happened, why it happened, and the final key question is what can I do to make sure it never happens again."

With files from CBC's Neil Herland and The Canadian Press