March 13, 2019 6:21 pm
Updated: March 13, 2019 6:23 pm

Compensation just around the corner for drivers stuck overnight on Hwy. 13: minister

A deal is in the works to offer compensation to those stranded on Highway 13 during a 2017 snowstorm. Details of the settlement are expected to be released soon but as Global's Anne Leclair reports, victims say the lawsuit is about more than money.

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Two years after an estimated 2,000 motorists were trapped in their cars on Highway 13 for up to 12 hours, Quebec’s transport minister says a deal is imminent and victims will get compensation.

The exact details of the agreement are still under wraps, but one woman who feared for her life that night is hoping the settlement will serve as a lesson for government officials.

“It was never about the money,” Irene Vaggalis said. “It’s not about the money, it’s more about making sure it does not happen again.”

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READ MORE: Quebec sits down at negotiating table in Highway 13 class-action lawsuit

The 25-year-old Laval resident, who runs a cleaning company, was heading to work at the time with her 14-year-old sister when traffic came to a full stop on Highway 13.

“I started having a panic attack,” said Vaggalis. “I had to calm myself down, I really thought I was going to die from the cold.”

Her gas tank was running on empty so Vaggalis would periodically turn her engine off. Her phone battery was at five per cent so she called her parents in a panic. Her biggest concern was that her sister’s asthma would act up due to the cold.

“I really worried because I didn’t know how long I was going to be there for,” Vaggalis said. “If she had an asthma attack, there was no way for an ambulance to get to me and there was no way to get to a hospital.”

The sisters were trapped in the middle of a 300-car traffic jam for close to 10 hours. Their parents were worried sick and tried to plead with police officers to let them through.

“I had it out with the police officer,” John Vaggalis said. “It really didn’t make sense that they couldn’t get this under control.”

Despite the hours of worry and panic, the girls’ parents are now convinced someone was watching over them.

“Four years prior to this incident happening, you know, we lost our son,” John said. “Thinking that you got two daughters in a car right now stranded out there, we were worried. We were dead worried.”

Irene Vaggalis and her parents

Anne Leclair

“I think he kept an eye on them to make sure that they got out safe,” John’s wife, Sandy, added.

A report later blamed a senior Quebec provincial police captain who should have been on site but was instead busy moonlighting as a real estate agent.

A class-action lawsuit targeting the City of Montreal and the attorney general of Quebec was later filed in court.

Now the transport minister claims compensation is imminent.

READ MORE: Lawsuit approved for stranded Hwy. 13 drivers after massive Montreal snowstorm

“Drivers will get compensation,” François Bonnardel said. “I cannot tell you the amount because it’s not ready and signed yet so we will see in the next days, weeks what will be the final amount that we will give to these drivers.”

Plaintiffs have been told they will be compensated based on how many hours they were stranded, and those opposed to the agreement will be allowed to take legal action on their own behalf.

“I won’t sue for extra,” said Irene. “The most important thing for me is that it does not happen again to anybody.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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