City of Fernie sues refrigeration company over 2017 ammonia leak at hockey arena that killed three workers
BIV's lawsuit of the week
The Corporation of the City of Fernie is suing refrigeration company Toromont Industries Ltd. after a catastrophic failure of the city’s hockey arena’s cooling system that killed three workers in October 2017.
The city filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on January 7, claiming Toromont, doing business as CIMCO Refrigeration, is on the hook for $650,000 in damages to the arena. According to the claim, the Fernie Memorial Arena’s ammonia-based refrigeration system failed soon after it was turned on for the 2017-18 hockey and curling season, causing an ammonia leak.
“The Failure resulted, tragically, in the deaths of two employees of the City and an employee of CIMCO,” the claim states.
Fernie claims it had a service agreement with CIMCO for the system in place since December 2016, and that it “relied on CIMCO for provision of advice and recommendations in connection with operation, maintenance, and servicing of the System.”
“CIMCO’s duties, under the Service Agreement and in tort, were heightened due to the dangers associated with ammonia based refrigeration system, including danger to life and risk of damage to property associated with failure of an ammonia based refrigeration system,” the claim states.
According to the lawsuit, the company “gave inappropriate advice and/or failed to give appropriate advice to Fernie in the months leading up to the Failure concerning operation, maintenance and servicing of the System.”
A WorkSafeBC investigation into the incident, detailed in a report released in August 2018, found several violations of the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation by the City of Fernie and CIMCO. The investigation found meeting minutes from city council and its Leisure Services Advisory Board indicated “that there were concerns and knowledge relating to the refrigeration sysem far in advance of the incident that occurred.”
The investigation also found that CIMCO failed to protect the health and safety of employees, and that “the absence of an adequate safe work procedure and risk assessment to address a predicted and known failure mode of the flooded ammonia chiller critically undermined the effectiveness of the employer’s proactive health and safety system in this case.”
The City of Fernie seeks unspecified damages of approximately $650,000 for breach of contract and costs. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court and CIMCO had not responded to the claim by press time.