LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (REUTERS) - Two residents of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, where a runaway train derailed on July 6 and exploded into a wall of fire that killed 50 people, have launched a class action lawsuit to win compensation for the small community.
The plaintiffs, Guy Ouellet and Yannick Gagné, are seeking damages after the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train of 72 oil tanker cars crashed into the centre of the lakeside town near the Maine border, destroying buildings and businesses and leaving a community in mourning.
Mr Ouellet lost his partner, Diane Bizier, in the explosion, while Mr Gagné's popular bar, the Musi-Cafe, was levelled by the blast and subsequent fire. The bar was filled with people at the time of the accident, and most are presumed dead.
Thirty-five bodies have so far been recovered from the blackened remains of the town's historic downtown, with 15 people still missing but presumed dead in what is one of the worst railway disasters in Canada's history.
The railway's chairman, Mr Edward Burkhardt, apologised to the town of about 6,000 last week and acknowledged corporate liability. The company has said the engineer who parked the train in a nearby town uphill from Lac-Megantic likely failed to set sufficient hand brakes.
The motion to bring a class action suit, to be filed in the district of Saint-Francois, in south-eastern Quebec, seeks compensation for those who have lost loved ones or were injured in the explosions. It also includes claims for property or business losses.
Mr Burkhardt and MMA president Robert Grindrod are named in the document, as is Mr Thomas Harding, who was the train's engineer.
"The suffering endured by this community and the suffering that is still ongoing has been truly incomprehensible," Mr Daniel Larochelle, a Lac-Megantic based lawyer who assembled the legal team, said in a statement.
The legal team includes the Consumer Law Group of Montreal, Rochon Genova LLP of Toronto and Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein LLP of New York and San Francisco.
"These firms have extensive experience pursuing large tort actions and in seeking compensation for victims following disasters including the BP Gulf oil spill litigation and in Exxon Valdez," Toronto law firm Rochon Genova said.