Lytton fire sparks series of lawsuits

July 14, 2023 —A NUMBER of lawsuits were filed late last month with a two-year limit expiring on legal action to seek damages stemming from the 2021 wildfire that levelled the town of Lytton, B.C.

First to the B.C. Supreme Court was the law firm of Slater Vecchio, based in Vancouver and Montreal, which filed an action in October 2021 on behalf of Christopher O’Connor, since deceased, and Jordan Spinks, former chief of the Lytton First Nation.

That suit, which is awaiting a court decision on an application for class action status, seeks damages from CN Rail, CP Rail, the government of Canada and a U.S.- based rail safety company doing business as eRailSafe Canada.

Then last month, Lytton’s insurer, the Municipal Insurance Association of B.C., filed a suit against CN Rail, CP Rail and Transport Canada on behalf of 119 residents and businesses, claiming the defendants allowed a train to pass through the village during record-high temperatures.

The suit alleges the wildfire was caused by the heat, sparks or diesel exhaust generated by the train. (A Transportation Safety Board report released in October 2021 did not find evidence that railway operations sparked the Lytton wildfire.)

Meanwhile, the village of Lytton is suing MIABC, claiming that under its policy, the insurer is responsible for covering the outstanding debris removal work, the loss of rental or lease income and extra expenses incurred in carrying out its operations at alternative locations.

Neither of the latter lawsuits has been served to the defendants, but they serve as placeholders that could be used in future to realize compensation for the 2021 fire, according to the village.

“The village of Lytton has no current intention to pursue this lawsuit and has not served MIABC at this time,” the village said in a statement about the June 23 suit.

“MIABC is aware and supportive of the village filing this notice of civil claim.”

But Slater Vecchio contends that the MIABC suit, while filed in the names of village residents, “in fact represents the interests of insurance companies who are seeking to be repaid the amounts that they have paid out to individuals and businesses through insurance claims.”

Adding to the confusion is a political divide among the villagers themselves. Frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction and blaming the provincial government and agencies such as FireSmartBC for turning Lytton into the poster child for remediation and costly fireproofing, some locals balked at language that seemed to target items such as barbecues and wood-burning stoves. In the face of such grumbling, the majority of Lytton’s incumbents opted not to run for re-election in last October’s municipal elections.

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