Money Can Buy You Justice In British Columbia
Daughters settle B.C. ferry lawsuit
By Steve Mertl, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER, B.C. - The daughters of a man who died in the sinking of the B.C. ferry the Queen of the North have settled their wrongful-death lawsuit out of court but not because they wanted to, their lawyer says.
Peter Ritchie, who represents Britni and Morgan Foisy of Penticton, B.C., announced the settlement Thursday, before the civil trial targeting BC Ferry Services Inc. was scheduled to start Monday.
Ritchie blasted the B.C. civil justice system for putting financial roadblocks in the girls' way and BC Ferries, the provincially owned, independently run ferry operator, for trying to dodge a potentially damaging jury trial.
Gerald Foisy and his companion, Shirley Rosette, died March 22, 2006, when the Queen of the North, a few hours into its overnight run from the north coast port of Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, rammed Gil Island at full speed and sank.
The ship's other 99 passengers and crew managed to get off the vessel and were rescued by residents of nearby Hartley Bay, B.C.
But Foisy and Rosette, residents of 100 Mile House, B.C., who had a cabin on the Queen, did not. Their bodies were never found and it's presumed they went down with the ship.
BC Ferries and the federal Transportation Safety Board conducted separate investigations and the RCMP has forwarded the results of their criminal probe to Crown prosecutors, who have yet to decide whether there will be charges under the Marine Act.
Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch, said the case is still under review.
Three crew members were fired for as-yet unexplained actions on the ship's bridge that night.
The federal report also pointed to shortcomings in evacuation procedures that left Foisy and Rosette unaccounted for.
But Ritchie said both BC Ferries' internal review and the safety board report "had considerable shortcomings," and didn't reveal to the Foisy family what happened.
"One of the main purposes for the trial was so that they could find out what happened to their father," he said of the girls, now aged 14 and 19. "On behalf of the two girls I was keen to put BC Ferries employees on a witness stand in front of the public on oath and cross-examine them as to what happened."
But the cost of mounting a jury trial was prohibitive for the family, who have only modest means, he said.
Ritchie said up-front costs included $15,000 for renting a courtroom for the estimated 30-day trial, $25,000 in fees to empanel a jury and $15,000 to $20,000 to pay travel and other expenses for a dozen or so witnesses, many of them BC Ferries employees.
"So before this trial could get off the ground, our court rules, our government would require that the girls come up with something like $55,000 just to have the trial," Ritchie said.
No other province charges such high fees to plaintiffs in civil cases, said Ritchie. Alberta, for example, charges $800 and Ontario $645 while Saskatchewan's daily trial fee would have added up to about $3,000, he said.
That gives deep-pocketed litigants like BC Ferries an advantage over ordinary people, said Ritchie.
The family of Shirley Rosette reached an undisclosed settlement with BC Ferries earlier this month.
Ritchie would not divulge the size of the Foisys' settlement with BC Ferries, which declined to comment on the case.
He also accused BC Ferries and crew members of making it unnecessarily difficult to get witnesses.
The ship's captain demanded travel expenses from his home in Calgary and refused a Vancouver-issued subpoena, requiring the expense of getting one from an Alberta court. BC Ferries also said a key manager would be out of the country during the trial, forcing a costly videotaped session.
Ritchie conceded a jury damage award could have been potentially lucrative but said the trial was not about a big payday. The girls wanted to know how it was their father and Rosette were overlooked when the ship was evacuated.
He said there are many questions, including why BC Ferries had no detailed evacuation plan for the vessel and whether all the ship's cabins were searched. Crew members were supposed to mark searched cabins with an X in chalk, but apparently couldn't find the chalk, said Ritchie.
It's been speculated Foisy and Rosette were trapped inside a cabin with the door jammed.