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

It has been nearly two months since catastrophic flooding soaked the Sumas Prairie, but local farmer and businesswoman Caroline Mostertman said the extent of the damage was still unclear.

In November, her winery and distillery drowned in six-foot flood waters, and while it’s easy to count the bottles lost, she said the long-term damage is a trickier calculation.

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

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Sumas Prairie residents file class action lawsuit alleging damage caused by flooding in BC

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

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They are determined to rebuild, she said, because they have no choice.

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

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Sumas Prairie residents are proposing a class action lawsuit over flood damage

Sumas Prairie residents propose class action lawsuit over flood damage – January 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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“Here in the farming community we are resourceful and don’t typically point fingers or raise hands asking for help. We take care of things,” explained Mostertman.

“So if we had known a little bit with the help of this amazing community behind us who have already shown their support during the cleanup, we could have moved mountains in a few days.”

Click here to play the video: 'Suma's Prairie flood victims still need support'

Sumas Prairie flood victims still need assistance

Sumas Prairie flood victims still need assistance

The proposed class action lawsuit seeks to represent all individuals who owned or had an interest in property in the flood-hit Abbotsford area.

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The lawsuit argues that the defendants “failed to implement emergency measures and warnings when they knew or should have known that flooding affecting the Sumas Prairie was the foreseeable result of the weather affecting the Sumas tide preceded it.”

“I think the ranchers would have had a harder time evacuating 40,000 chickens, but the dairy farmers could certainly have gotten all their livestock out,” Mostertman said. “The losses are enormous.”

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For the lawsuit to succeed, the plaintiffs must prove “gross negligence” on the part of the listed governments and companies. Except for gross negligence, the provincial Emergency Programs Act protects governments from civil liability related to actions taken or failure to act 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 claimed. “The fact that our levees were inadequate, the fact that there was no redundancy at the Barrowtown pumping station, the fact that the Nooksack flooded and has previously caused major flooding, and nothing has changed.”

Click here to play the video: 'Abbotsford warehouse hit hard by November floods'

Abbotsford camp was badly hit by the November floods

Abbotsford camp hit hard by floods in November – 24th December 2021

On November 14th, South BC was hit by record-breaking rains that contributed to the rupture of the Sumas levee in two places two days later. Flooding from Washington’s similarly flooded Nooksack River contributed to this.

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The ensuing floods swallowed homes and vehicles on the Sumas Prairies, submerged 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 is speaking in the hope that governments will enact changes that will ensure British Columbia residents are better prepared should such a disaster strike again.

Plaintiffs are seeking general, special and punitive damages in addition to the costs of the class action itself. Defendants must respond to the complaint within 21 days of service.

None has done so, confirms Slater Vecchio LLP.

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