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Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte sued for negligence in seniors' home fire

Fire engulfs a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., early Thursday, Jan.23, 2014. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed against the Quebec town where 32 people died in a fire at a seniors' home last January. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frances Drouin

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Fire engulfs a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., early Thursday, Jan.23, 2014. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed against the Quebec town where 32 people died in a fire at a seniors' home last January. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frances Drouin

MONTREAL - A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed against the Quebec town where 32 people died in a fire at a seniors' home last January.

The owners of the residence and their insurer allege in their $3.8-million lawsuit that L'Isle-Verte made numerous mistakes that "resulted in a human catastrophe that could have been avoided or at least been of lesser magnitude."

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Quebec Superior Court alleges the town failed to implement emergency plans to cope with such a disaster.

It said the failure of town officials to prepare for such a catastrophe showed a "reckless disregard for the lives of others, particularly the elderly in the Residence du Havre."

Roch Bernier and Irene Plante, owners of the facility, argue they had been asking the town to devise contingency plans for five years.

"This lack of planning...meant that municipal employees improvised... and made serious mistakes," the lawsuit said.

Many of the residents at the Residence du Havre could not move without assistance, while others fled into freezing temperatures to escape the inferno.

The lawsuit alleges one firetruck arrived at the scene of the blaze within 15 minutes and that several additional minutes passed before another pulled up. It argues the numbers were also insufficient.

The suit says the fire trucks were not equipped with appropriate ladders to rescue people in the seniors' home and that the town's volunteer firefighters did not have the proper equipment to provide emergency care.

The document also alleges that tensions between the fire departments in L'Isle-Verte and nearby Riviere-du-Loup, which was better equipped for the situation, contributed to the lack of planning.

The amount of the lawsuit includes the cost of damage to the building and the mortgage as well as compensation for physical and psychological problems.

The plaintiffs say the disaster has left deep physical and psychological scars that are still being felt six months later.

Bernier and Plante say their health issues include post-traumatic stress, sleep disorders and a sense of helplessness.

The 52-room residence was partially equipped with a sprinkler system, which was mainly in a section of the building that was untouched by flames.

Quebec provincial police have not determined a cause for the fire.

Guy Bertrand, lawyer for Bernier and Plante, would not comment on the lawsuit. Officials in L'Isle-Verte did not return calls asking for comment.

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