BANGOR, Maine — An Illinois attorney who represents the victims of the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, train disaster and their families said Friday that he will file a lawsuit against Irving Oil Co., the Canadian firm that hired the railroad to ship crude oil to its refinery in New Brunswick.
Peter J. Flowers of Chicago, who represents the estates of 19 victims in wrongful death suits, said the decision to sue Irving was made after Canadian media reported Wednesday that the Lac-Megantic train, owned by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, was hauling a more flammable gasoline-like fuel than the crude oil it was supposed to be carrying. The tanker train derailed and exploded in the middle of the small town of Lac-Megantic, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage as well as 47 deaths.
Efforts to reach a representative for Irving were unsuccessful Friday.
The day after the July 6 disaster, Irving posted the following statement in French and English on its website: “Our concern is for the tragic loss of life and the impact on the people of Lac-Megantic. The owners of the crude oil have confirmed to us that it was being transported by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) to be delivered to our refinery in Saint John. We immediately offered emergency response assistance to the authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by this tragedy.”
The oil came from a U.S. Bakken oilfield and was headed for the Irving refinery. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board said documents showed the cargo was listed in the Packing Group III category, which describes regular crude oil.
But tests showed the oil actually belonged in the Packing Group II category, which has the characteristics of gasoline and is much more explosive, according to a previously published report.
In Canada, the oil’s buyer and importer is responsible for accurately labeling the product, according to Flowers.
“It’s clear that Irving Oil has a significant responsibility in this disaster,” Flowers said Friday. He did not say when he planned to file the suit.
The attorney in July sued Western Petroleum Co., World Fuel Service, Petroleum Transportation Solutions and MMA’s parent company Rail World Inc., all of Chicago, along with Dakota Petroleum Transportation Solutions, DPTS Marketing LLC and Dakota Plains Marketing, all of Minnesota, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. The suits allege that flaws in the tankers carrying the oil have been known since 1991.
Rail World Inc. last month had the cases transferred to U.S. District Court in Chicago. A federal judge there on Thursday remanded one case back to state court. Flowers said Friday he expected the other cases to be remanded to state court next week.
That would make moot a motion pending in federal court in Bangor to move the cases from U.S. District Court in Chicago to Maine.
In addition to the lawsuits filed in Chicago, the victims also are seeking to be represented in the railroad’s bankruptcy proceeding in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Maine. A federal bankruptcy judge will consider Oct. 1 whether a committee to represent the interests of the victims and their families will be created.
The hearing, originally scheduled for Friday, was rescheduled after attorneys from out of state were unable to attend due to airport weather delays.
The railroad and its Canadian counterpart filed for bankruptcy in their respective countries a month after the unmanned MMA train hauling 72 tankers of crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, destroying the center of the town. It had been parked on a main track atop a steep slope in Nantes, Quebec, about six miles away.
The accident dumped several million gallons of light crude oil into nearby soil, lakes and streams. Cleanup operations and civil and criminal investigations continue in Canada.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Louis Kornreich announced Friday that he also will consider Oct. 1 whether the railroad’s insurance policy includes coverage for losses of rail cars and railroad track and roadbeds as well as business income losses or expenses arising out of the derailment. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America last month filed a motion seeking a declaratory judgment that makes clear it is not liable for claims made by third parties who suffered personal injuries or damage to their property as a result of the incident.
The judge said that he would coordinate with the Canadian judge so he and the parties in Quebec can participate electronically in the proceeding in Bangor. The joint hearing is possible because both judges adopted a set of cross-border protocols earlier this month.