Sandy Zaitzeff, counsel for the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit against the city of Thunder Bay in the failure of the sewage treatment plant is seen outside the Superior Court on Monday. Zaitzeff and his side agreed to a class certification consent with the city's lawyers during a hearing on Monday, which will allow the lawsuit to proceed.
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A significant hurdle has been cleared for the pending $375 million class-action lawsuit against the city.
Counsel for both the plaintiffs and defendants agreed to consent certification of the class during a hearing at the Superior Court on Monday, which will allow the lawsuit to proceed and move forward. The suit was filed due to the failure of the sewage treatment plant during last May’s flooding.
Sandy Zaitzeff, counsel for the plaintiffs, said the consent certification from the city will likely take at least one to two years off of the timeline for the process and save significant expenses for both sides.
Zaitzeff, an attorney at Watkins Law, added the certification is not an admission of liability by either side, but is rather an acknowledgment that the plaintiffs have a strong enough case to proceed.
“We have a very substantial report that is based on solid engineering and a review of the drawings of the plant, a tour of the plant and other evidentiary material we have produced as well as just common knowledge that there were other 2,000 to 3,000 people who had sewage backup in their basements,” Zaitzeff said of his case.
“This was not a flood. This was a sewage treatment plant that was mismanaged and poorly operated and that’s why sewage backed up into people’s basements. It was negligence, we allege, in the operations of the plant.”
He said the suit consists of nearly 400 people, but there are at least 2,000 others who are eligible to join.
He added that those eligible will be limited by the geographic boundaries of those who resided in the city's East End, or the low-lying areas of Fort William, Northwood, or below High Street and the intercity area.
Zaitzeff also added that the value of damages the lawsuit is pursuing is subject to change depending upon how many others add their name to the class.
Next up for the case is the discovery process and exchange of documents, which Zaitzeff estimated will take approximately the next six months to a year. He is hopeful that during discovery his side will receive some answers about what caused the failure of the sewage plant.
The city will produce for us, under court order, literally thousands of documents and we’ll review them and many more drawings,” he explained. "We may again tour the plant or tour the city’s sewage collection system but our experts will get more material to review and the city will have to tell us what happened and why it happened on May 28 in the early hours of the morning. What did they do? They still haven’t told us."
City manager Tim Commisso spoke regarding the lawsuit following Monday's council meeting.
"We went to council two months ago and advised council how we wanted to proceed. It is to the city's advantage to support the certification," Commisso said.
"There will actually be a notice coming out within the next 30 days that outlines it more. I'm not going to get into legal strategy but it puts the city in a better position to defend the class action lawsuit by having it certified because the focus will be on those affected by the plant."
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