A week after hundreds of motorists were trapped for most of the night in their vehicles on Highway 13 during a record snowstorm, Transport Quebec has publicly apologized to them and a second law firm has launched a class action suit on their behalf.
Last Thursday, two law firms — Trudel, Johnston & Lespérance and Deveau Avocats — jointly filed application to launch a class action suit, naming their representative applicant as Alexandre Lepage Forbes. But lawyers for those firms told the Montreal Gazette Monday that Lepage Forbes decided late Thursday he had changed his mind about being the representative applicant “for personal reasons.” The law firms took the weekend to find another representative victim for their class action application.
On Monday morning, they filed an amended request for authorization of their class action suit, changing the name of the victims’ representative to Gilles D. Beauchamp, adding motorists who were stranded on Highway 520 east to the class, and revising the claim for compensation from at least $2,000 to at least $2,500 per victim. The amended request also says victims can make individual claims for more compensation.
But just before that amendment was filed, a third law firm, LPC Avocat Inc., filed application to authorize a class action suit on behalf of “all drivers and occupants of road vehicles who were left stranded on Highway 13 (including those on adjacent roads) on the evening of March 14 through the morning of March 15th, 2017.”
A Superior Court judge will decide which lawsuit will be authorized. The lawyer behind the second application, Joey Zukran, said he believes his request is the first to be filed that meets the requirements of the law, since the earlier one had no representative applicant when his was filed.
The compensation requested in Zukran’s lawsuit is “to be determined.”
Marlene Berman is named as the applicant in the Zukran lawsuit. Berman said she was approached by a representative of Trudel, Johnston & Lespérance and Deveau Avocats to be the representative in their lawsuit but preferred to choose her own lawyer. She had already notified her fellow Highway 13 strandees by setting up a Facebook page on the event, which now has more than 300 members.
Berman, a sales representative at a car dealership in Dollard des Ormeaux, said she is furious with h0w she and hundreds of others were simply abandoned last Tuesday night. She left work at a Hyundai dealership in Dollard des Ormeaux at 8 p.m. for her home in Verdun. The trip, which normally takes half-hour drive, took more than nine hours.
She said many of the people stuck on the highway were afraid, hungry, needing bathroom facilities, and completely in the dark about when help would come.
“At one point the guy behind me got out of his car and was screaming at the top of his lungs. ‘I can’t take this shit anymore. I want to go home. I have to take a crap.’” She said people were deprived of their freedom, safety, dignity, and were abandoned by the institutions they count on “to serve and protect us.”
Berman and Zukran are holding an information meeting on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 6600 Côte-de-Liesse Rd., from 6 to 10 p.m. for motorists who wish to learn more about the legal procedure.
Meanwhile, Transport Quebec issued a public apology Monday, promising to collaborate with the external investigation now underway and to put in place any recommendations that arise from it.
The ministry also announced it will reimburse towing fees to drivers whose vehicles were towed from Highway 13 that night.
Premier Philippe Couillard apologized publicly on March 16 for the debacle, and a captain at the Sûreté du Québec has admitted the provincial police did not do their job properly that night. The SQ captain and lieutenant in charge of the operation have been assigned administrative tasks while an internal investigation is completed. They may face disciplinary actions, depending on the results of that investigation.
But Berman said she is not impressed with apologies to the media or on websites by public figures.
“Mea culpa, my ass. What are we going to do to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t ever happen again?”