RPT-Deadly Quebec train crash to be fertile ground for lawsuits

Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:42am EDT
 
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By Randall Palmer and Casey Sullivan

OTTAWA/NEW YORK, July 10 (Reuters) - As investigators try to piece together how a parked oil freight train broke free and demolished the heart of a small Quebec town last weekend, a barrage of litigation could soon be hitting everyone from the U.S. rail company to the Canadian government.

The key questions that will have to be answered in the coming weeks and months include whether any cases filed will be heard in Canada or the United States, which parties were most negligent and how liability for the crash is spread among them. Canadian authorities have launched an investigation and say they are looking into possible criminal negligence.

Fifty people are feared to have been killed when an unmanned train hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil slid downhill from the town of Nantes and derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic on Saturday. Police have confirmed 20 dead, with 30 others still missing and a criminal probe begun.

It was the worst rail disaster in North America in more than two decades.

Lawyers say possible targets of litigation include train operator Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, or MMA, its parent company Rail World Inc, and the train's engineer; the town of Nantes; the supplier of the crude, World Fuel Services Corp ; and the Canadian government, which regulates the rail system.

But the first legal salvo will likely be fired over where the cases would be heard. While the catastrophe took place in Canada, the rail company is based in Maine, its parent is headquartered in Rosemont, Illinois, near Chicago, and the train was shipping crude from North Dakota.

The United States offers plaintiffs the prospect of larger recoveries than Canada, but they would need to prove a U.S. venue would be the most convenient and appropriate. Lawyers said that could be tough when the damages to the rural Quebec town and its residents would likely be at the heart of any suit.   Continued...