A class-action lawsuit launched by a group of workers and family members involved in the 2012 explosion at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills is moving forward.
The group launched the class-action lawsuit against WorkSafeBC and the province over a year ago, in January 2016. The ten plaintiffs named in the suit are seeking general, special and punitive damages, as well as declarations from WorkSafeBC admitting inspections and investigations into the explosions were negligent.
According to WorkSafeBC’s spokesperson Scott McCloy, the parties are currently awaiting a date to appear before a case management judge to determine the next steps in the lawsuit.
McCloy said a preliminary application was made by the province and WorkSafeBC to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT), which has jurisdiction to decide the status of parties in a lawsuit.
The WCAT recently issued a determination that the on-shift plaintiffs were workers within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act and their injuries arose in the course of their employment. The WCAT also determined that the defendants were engaged in the course of their employment.
“The court will ultimately determine how this determination affects the on-shift plaintiffs’ ability to proceed with legal claims against the defendants,” explained McCloy.
The Babine Forest Products on-shift worker class involved in the lawsuit includes Patrick Ken Michell, a mill worker who resides in the Lake Babine Nation. At the time of the Babine explosion, he was employed as a board edger operator at the mill. This class also includes Thomas Dirk Weissbach, a mill worker who resides in Fraser Lake. At the time of the Babine explosion, he was employed as a trimmer saw operator at the mill.
The Babine off-shift worker class includes Gerald Lester Whitford, a mill worker who resides in Burns Lake. At the time of the Babine explosion, he was employed as a swamper at the mill and he was not physically present during the explosion.
The Babine family class includes Theresa Mary Michell, a homemaker who resides in the Lake Babine Nation. At the time of the Babine explosion, her husband – Patrick Ken Michell – was employed at the mill. This class also includes Kathleen Ruby Weissbach, a health care assistant who resides in Fraser Lake. At the time of the Babine explosion, her spouse – Thomas Dirk Weissbach – was employed at the mill.
The other five plaintffs represent Lakeland Mills workers and family members of victims.
The notice of civil claim filed on Jan. 7, 2016 alleges that prior to the mill explosions, WorkSafeBC “knew or ought to have known that, in sufficient concentrations, wood dust is combustible and poses a serious risk of explosion,” citing multiple reports from American agencies and WorkSafeBC outlining the risks of combustible dust.
WorkSafeBC has denied it was negligent or reckless in their investigation of the mill explosions.
The province said the class-action lawsuit does not disclose a cause of action and is therefore not appropriate for a class proceeding.