Workers barred from suing WorkSafeBC, agency says

Employees affected by the explosions that destroyed the Lakeland and Babine sawmills three years ago are barred from bringing a class action lawsuit against WorkSafeBC, the agency says in a response filed last week.

Workers must choose between accepting compensation or suing WorkSafeBC but "cannot do both," according to the response, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

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Moreover, WorkSafeBC says employees exceeded the two-year limit from the date the claims were discoverable to bring the action to court.

Either way, WorkSafeBC is denying employees' claim that the agency was "negligent or reckless" in both the inspection of the sawmills prior to the explosions and in the investigations that followed.

An explosion leveled Babine Forest Products outside Burns Lake on Jan. 20, 2012, killing two employees, Robert Luggi, 45, and Carl Charlie, 42, and leaving 19 other employees with injuries, many of them serious.

Slightly more than three months later, Glenn Roche, 46, and Alan Little, 43, died from the severe burns they suffered in the April 23, 2012 explosion at Lakeland Mills in Prince George, which left more than 20 others with injuries.

In January, 10 plaintiffs filed the action against WorkSafeBC and the provincial government.

They include four workers who were on shift at either of the sawmills when the explosions occurred, two workers who were not on shift but are claiming psychiatric injuries, two spouses of workers injured by the blasts and Little's father.

WorkSafeBC was created as a result of a "historic trade-off" that extinguished the right of workers and their families to sue an employer for workplace accidents, the notice of claim notes.

In its response, WorkSafeBC further contends the "Babine off-shift worker class," "Babine family class," "Lakeland of-shift class," and the "Lakeland family-class" lack the proximity to the explosion to be allowed to be plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The provincial government also filed a response last week, also saying in part the action is statute barred because of the two-year time limitation and also saying the plaintiffs did not suffer any recoverable damages other than those for which compensation from WorkSafeBC had been approved.

None of the claims have yet been proven in court.

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