No need to stay personal injury suit in favour of similar class action suit: Sask. Court of Appeal

Both lawsuits arose from 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus accident that killed 16

No need to stay personal injury suit in favour of similar class action suit: Sask. Court of Appeal
Hockey team left dead or injured in bus accident

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has reversed an order staying a suit related to the Humboldt Broncos 2018 accident in favour of a virtually identical class action suit instituted two years later.

In Herold v. Wassermann, 2022 SKCA 103, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a tractor-trailer unit near Armley, SK, in April 2018. The accident took the lives of 16 people. Three months after the accident, family members of several individuals who died in the crash, led by Russel Herold, commenced a lawsuit (the Herold Action) against the driver of the tractor-trailer and several others for damages.

In 2020, another group with similar circumstances led by Lyle Brons commenced a separate action (Brons Action). This group sought to certify the Brons action as a class action. 

The Herold plaintiffs did not want to participate in the class action since the breadth and nature of class actions would interfere with their ability to resolve their own claims. The Brons plaintiffs however, sought to stay the Herold action pending certification of the Brons action with the option to continue the stay should certification be granted.

The chambers judge stayed the Herold action. He found the two actions to be virtually identical as there was a substantial overlap with both the factual background and the issues of the two proceedings. He also ruled that there would be no prejudice against the Herold plaintiffs, since there was “no good reason” to allow both to proceed simultaneously.

The Herold plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the chambers judge erred in applying the correct principles in granting a temporary stay.

The appellate court agreed.

Stay of Herold action not justified

“The Herold plaintiffs have the right to pursue their claim in a regular action outside of any class action that may be certified,” said the appeal court. The chamber judge’s priority onavoiding unnecessary multiple proceedings failed to recognize the preservation of the right of claimants to pursue their claims in a regular action, said the court.

Further, the appellate court found that the chambers judge failed to identify what prejudice the Brons plaintiffs would suffer if the Herold action was not stayed. Simple determination of whether the Herold plaintiffs would suffer injustice is insufficient to satisfy the requirements for a stay, said the court.

Upon review of the facts and balancing of the competing interests, the appellate court found that the stay was inappropriate. The stay completely barred the Herold plaintiff’s access to the court, the risk of inconsistent verdicts were far removed from the circumstances, there was no compelling reason that the Brons action is preferred or more appropriate than the Herold action, and the Herold plaintiffs were not abusing the court process by pursuing individual action, said the court.

In allowing the appeal, the appellate court ruled that no proper basis existed to stay the Herold Action at the time.

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