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‘Losses are enormous,’ says plaintiff in class action lawsuit filed over B.C. flood damage

Click to play video: 'Sumas Prairie residents behind class action lawsuit over B.C. flood damage speak out' Sumas Prairie residents behind class action lawsuit over B.C. flood damage speak out
Two Sumas Prairie residents and business owners are suing the city of Abbotsford, Fraser Valley Regional District and the province - seeking damages for personal loss and destruction caused by last November's catastrophic flooding. Rumina Daya has their story – Jan 11, 2022

It’s been nearly two months since catastrophic floods drenched the Sumas Prairie, but local farmer and businesswoman Caroline Mostertman said the extent of the damage is still unclear.

In November, her winery and distillery were drowned in six feet of flood water, and while it’s easy to count the lost bottles, she said the long-term harm is a trickier calculation.

“It’s too early to tell yet how the berries and the grapes have fared. They were underwater for two weeks,” she told Global News. “We’ll have to wait for the spring to see what happens there.”

Read more: Sumas Prairie residents file class action lawsuit over damage caused by B.C. floods

Mostertman and her husband spent 40 years developing Ripples Winery and New Wave Distilling, their 20 acres of fruit, and the Woodbridge Ponds plant nursery.

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They’re determined to rebuild, she said, because they don’t have a choice.

“We can’t just give up. I worry that at 60 I don’t have the energy to do it as well as we did it once, but we’ll just plug along one day at a time.”

Click to play video: 'Sumas Prairie residents propose class action lawsuit over flooding damage' Sumas Prairie residents propose class action lawsuit over flooding damage
Sumas Prairie residents propose class action lawsuit over flooding damage – Jan 1, 2022

Mostertman is now one of two representative plaintiffs in a proposed class action lawsuit that seeks damages for personal loss and destruction caused by the natural disaster between Nov. 14 and 16, 2021.

The lawsuit, which has not yet been certified by a judge, was filed by lawyer Anthony Vecchio of Slater Vecchio LLP.

It names the City of Abbotsford, Fraser Valley Regional District and Province of British Columbia as defendants, in addition to three unnamed companies in charge of monitoring for floods or initiating emergency response.

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The government parties have all declined to comment on the matter before the courts, although Emergency Management BC has previously said it takes the “health and safety of British Columbians seriously in emergency situations.”

Read more: B.C. farmers ‘white knuckling’ their way through extreme cold after floods, heat dome

Mostertman and Ted Dykman, the other representative plaintiff, allege local authorities and the province failed to adequately warn residents of the impending disaster, limiting their ability to save their belongings.

“Here in the farming community, we’re resourceful and we don’t typically point fingers or hold up our hands and ask for help. We deal with things,” Mostertman explained.

“So had we had a little bit of notice, with the help of this amazing community behind us, that have been out showing their support already with the cleanup, we could have moved mountains in a couple of days.”

Click to play video: 'Sumas Prairie flood victims still need support' Sumas Prairie flood victims still need support
Sumas Prairie flood victims still need support – Jan 9, 2022

The proposed class action is meant to represent all people who owned or had an interest in property in the Abbotsford area affected by the flood.

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The Statement of Claim argues the defendants “failed to implement emergency measures and warnings when they knew or ought to have known that a flood impacting the Sumas Prairie was the foreseeable consequence of the weather preceding the Sumas Flood.”

“I think the livestock farmers would have had a harder time evacuating 40,000 chickens but the dairy farmers sure as heck could have got all their cattle out,” said Mostertman. “The losses are enormous.”

Read more: November floods take hydro pole on ‘epic journey’ from B.C. Interior to U.S. border

In order for the lawsuit to be successful, the plaintiffs must prove “grossly negligent failure” on the part of the governments and companies listed. Unless gross negligence exists, the province’s Emergency Program Act protects governments from civil liability related to measures taken, or not taken, in an emergency or disaster.

Mostertman said governments can’t control the weather, but they can control their response before and after it arrives.

“There were all these big red flags,” she alleged. “The fact that our dikes were inadequate, the fact that there was no redundancy at the Barrowtown pump station, the fact that the Nooksack has flooded and caused major flooding before, and nothing has changed.”

Click to play video: 'Abbotsford storage facility hit hard by November’s floods' Abbotsford storage facility hit hard by November’s floods
Abbotsford storage facility hit hard by November’s floods – Dec 24, 2021

On Nov. 14, southern B.C. was hit by record-breaking rainfall that contributed two days later to the breach of the Sumas Dike in two places. Overflow from the similarly flooded Nooksack River in Washington contributed.

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The ensuing floods swallowed homes and vehicles in Sumas Prairie, drowned countless acres of farmland, destroyed crops, killed livestock, and displaced thousands of people.

Elsewhere in the province, five people were killed in rain-related mudslides, critical infrastructure was destroyed, and entire communities were evacuated.

Mostertman said she’s speaking up in the hopes governments will enact changes that ensure British Columbians are better prepared if such a disaster strikes again.

The plaintiffs are seeking general, special and punitive damages, in addition to relief for the legal costs of the class action itself. The defendants must respond to the claim within 21 days of being served.

None have done so to date, Slater Vecchio LLP confirms.

 

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