The Potential of Class-Action Lawsuits: Nickel Contamination in Ontario

As Ellen Smith along with the Port Colborne community in Ontario  prepare their case against mining giant Vale for nickel contamination on their properties, others see the potential of future environmental class-action lawsuits against polluters.

A spokesman for Vale, Cory McPhee, said in an e-mail that the company believes it has “solid grounds” for its appeal of the ruling: “The decision concerns us and no doubt concerns others in industry and the broader business community who may face similar situations here in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.”

Some legal observers say the ruling, if it stands, could mean many more lawsuits against polluters across Canada, making possible what are known in the United States as “toxic torts” – David-and-Goliath-style class actions reminiscent of the fights dramatized by John Travolta in A Civil Action or Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich.


Dianne Saxe, an environmental lawyer based in Toronto, said the Inco ruling, if upheld, could mean open season on anyone with a smokestack whose emissions can be shown to affect property values.

She says the obvious next target for class action plaintiffs’ lawyers would be Alberta’s oil sands.

“For sure, if running a refinery when no one knew it was a problem, gives a Rylands claim to everybody in the vicinity, then running the tar sands, emitting things that we know are harmful, gives anyone downwind who’s affected a claim,” Ms. Saxe said. “… They should be able to do one hell of a class action.”

Read more here.

Diana Wiggins and Ellen Smith outside the Vale refinery that has contaminated their homes and their city.

Photo by Diana Wiggins


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