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UVic denies allegations of negligence in fatal Bamfield bus crash

Crash survivors face long road ahead, lawyer says

By Nina Grossman
January 7, 2023
Transportation
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UVic denies allegations of negligence in fatal Bamfield bus crash

Crash survivors face long road ahead, lawyer says

By Nina Grossman
Jan 7, 2023
UVic is one of several defendants, including the province and Western Forest Products, named in civil lawsuits filed by bus crash survivors. Photo: Google Maps
UVic is one of several defendants, including the province and Western Forest Products, named in civil lawsuits filed by bus crash survivors. Photo: Google Maps
Transportation
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UVic denies allegations of negligence in fatal Bamfield bus crash

Crash survivors face long road ahead, lawyer says

By Nina Grossman
January 7, 2023
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UVic denies allegations of negligence in fatal Bamfield bus crash
UVic is one of several defendants, including the province and Western Forest Products, named in civil lawsuits filed by bus crash survivors. Photo: Google Maps

The University of Victoria is denying liability in the 2019 bus crash that killed two students and injured others.

At least 18 lawsuits were filed by crash survivors, who cite physical and psychological injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder, memory impairment, back and neck injuries, and headaches.

Survivors are seeking compensation for medical care and financial losses, including the loss of potential future earnings.

The civil claims accuse the university of negligence, saying the school failed to consider visibility or road conditions in planning the field trip. UVic denied those allegations.  

It was dark and rainy when the bus crashed at the 37-kilometre marker of the gravel Bamfield Main Road on Sept. 13, 2019. The bus was transporting 45 students and two teaching assistants on a biology field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

With information from RCMP crash reconstructionists, CBC reported that the driver had moved the bus to the side of the road—right where it began to narrow by more than a metre—to allow a Jeep to pass. The bus tipped and went over an embankment and into a ravine, flipping onto its roof and resting roughly three metres below the road. Trees prevented the bus from rolling further, RCMP said.

Emma Machado and John Geerdes, both 18-year-old, first-year UVic students, were killed in the crash, dying from blunt force trauma to the head. Neither of the students was wearing a seatbelt at the time, according to the coroner's report, and they had not been encouraged to do so by either UVic staff or the bus driver, who was also named in the lawsuits.  

The civil claims also name Wilson’s Transportation Ltd., Smith Transportation Ltd., the province of BC and Western Forest Products as defendants. The latter was in charge of managing construction, repair and maintenance on the road where the crash occurred, while the province, as the owner of BC’s public roads, is also responsible for design, inspection and maintenance.

Lawyer Rajinder Sahota, who is representing a handful of students, wasn’t surprised by the defendants’ choice to deny liability, and acknowledged that it’s common legal practice. But that doesn’t change the way it affects the students, he said.

“It comes as a surprise to my clients, and it's stressful to my clients,” he said. “These positions have real consequences to the particular mental health of people who were hurt. It may be a legal tool to deny and exert pressure, but that has real life mental health consequences.”

In September 2022, Capital Daily reported on the status of safety upgrades to the Bamfield road, which, among the Island’s well-travelled routes, has long had a reputation as one of the most dangerous.

One year after the deadly crash, the province and Huu-ay-aht First Nation pledged a combined $30.7M to improve the vital western Island artery, on which at least eight Huu-ay-aht members have died since the road opened in the ‘70s.

Most of the road will be widened to eight metres, and steeper portions paved by fall of this year.

Sahota expects the civil proceedings to stretch over several years as the parties find evidence, file depositions and discoveries. He said it’s a process that assumes both parties have equal resources, which is often not the case.

“This process, in my respectful view, is not healthy for plaintiffs,” he said. “It encourages defendants to deny, deny, deny, even when that denial is not reasonable or responsible.

“It adds insult to injury.”  

The University of Victoria and Wilson’s Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.  

With files from Martin Bauman.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Nina Grossman
Newsletter Editor
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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