THUNDER BAY - Residents plagued with leaking copper pipes are taking the issue to court after prolonged silence from the city.
Attorney David O’Connor with Toronto law firm Roy O’Connor LLP confirmed the city of Thunder Bay has been served with a $350-million class-action lawsuit, led by resident Patsy Stadnyk, who has been vocal in recent months regarding the issue.
“We were contacted by Patsy Stadnyk in relation to the repeated consistent pinhole leaks in the plumbing in the Thunder Bay area,” O’Connor said.
“We were advised of the use of sodium hydroxide. It appeared to be a common and consistent problem. We understand Patsy and others in the community have been voicing their concerns and looking for some response or action from the city for sometime. None was forthcoming. Candidly a class-action like this is probably the best way to get the attention of the city and the best way to seek compensation for the alleged damage.”
Residents throughout the city have been experiencing pinhole leaks in copper water pipes since last spring.
The use of sodium hydroxide in the water system and residents believe this is the cause of the problem. The practice of adding sodium hydroxide was discontinued last January.
The city has repeatedly refused to comment on the issue, citing possible legal concerns, which has generated mounting frustration from residents.
Stadnyk experienced damage to a rental property this year after the main service line developed a leak. After reaching out to the city and receiving no response, she turned to social media.
"We had two rallies and still didn’t get anybody’s attention," she said. "Our Facebook group started with 300 people when I joined and now it’s more than 2,600. That’s how many people are involved in this and experienced leaking pipes."
During the rallies, Stadynk said she did not want to have to take legal action.
"It was never my intention to do this but we were kind of pushed to do this," she said. "This is the only way we are going to get answers. That’s how it evolved into a lawsuit."
Residents have said they have experienced property damage worth more than $10,000 as a result of pinhole leaks.
O’Connor said the class action lawsuit’s value of $350 million is a calculation of what the maximum amount of damages could be.
“The actual damages may be less than that, but in any class action or lawsuit, you want to make sure you cover enough for the potential exposure of the people in the class,” he said.
According to a statement on Roy O’Connor LLP website, the plaintiff’s statement of claim alleges the city of Thunder Bay “owed legal duties to the proposed class members (including individuals, businesses and other organizations supplied with water from the City) to ensure that the water supply did not unnecessarily corrode their pipes and plumbing systems.”
“The statement of claim alleges that the City breached those duties through the introduction and use of sodium hydroxide into the water supply. The statement of claim further alleges that the City had more reasonable, prudent and appropriate alternatives (other than the introduction of sodium hydroxide) that were readily available to address any concerns that the City had about the potential leaching of lead in plumbing systems in a subset of local properties. The Plaintiff’s allegations have yet to be proven in court.”
The next step for the class action will be seeking a judge to oversee the case. If the court provides approval the next step will be to speak to a judge on a timeline for materials.
“I would hope we would see that happening sometime in 2021,” O’Connor said. “It could happen in the next five or six months.”
Stadnyk said she hopes the class action suit will result in a water system that works for everybody and that those who experienced property damage will be reimbursed and that people in the future who experience similar problems will be assured they will be reimbursed, too.
"If we want the problem to be fixed, this is the way we have to go now," she said. "It was a difficult decision to make. I have never sued anyone before but I want to help the people here as well as myself to get back what we’ve put out of pocket."
"I am hoping the city is going to hear us now and they are going to help us. That’s what we want, is help. To get this situation resolved."
City manager Norm Gale said late Tuesday that the city cannot provide comment at this time.