The Sunrise Propane explosion should keep lawyers busy for years. The Ontario Ministry of Labour has charged Sunrise Propane Energy Group Inc. with breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act:
a. failing to provide information and/or instruction and/or supervision to a worker on safe work practices and recognition of hazards associated with propane storage, dispensing and handling, and on appropriate emergency response to propane leaks, and
b. failing to ensure that a propane facility was installed and operated in accordance with regulatory requirements and safe industry practice.
The Ministry of the Environment has also charged Sunrise Propane and two of its directors with breaching the Environmental Protection Act by failing to comply with MOE cleanup orders after the explosion. If convicted, they could be fined more than $1 million.
These charges will be heard in the provincial criminal court, the Ontario Court of Justice.
At the same time, seven different law firms, representing neighbours of the site, are attempting to certify a class action in the Superior Court of Justice, the civil court. They should not have much difficulty in obtaining certification of their basic claim; single incident disasters are relatively easy to certify. However, it is less obvious who will be the defendants. The claim seeks damages from eight companies and four individuals. In order of difficulty, they are:
- Sunrise Propane Energy Group Inc. and three numbered companies, all operating as Sunrise Propane: One owned and operated the trucks used to transport propane; one owned the propane facility license; one leased the property, etc.. It should be fairly easy for the plaintiffs to sue these companies, since they all used the same name and were all involved in facility operations;
- the officers and directors of the four Sunrise Propane companies. Since the pleadings don’t identify any individual wrongdoing by the directors, it will likely have to be amended for a case to be certified against them, and
- four companies who owned or leased the property where the explosion occurred, and who sub-leased it to a Sunrise company. As landlords are not generally liable for their tenants’ torts, it will be very surprising if the case is certified against them.