Windsor law firm files class action over Wheatley explosion

Wheatley gas explosion. (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

For the past year, Windsor law firm Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP has been preparing a class action over the explosion that rocked Wheatley in August 2021.

It filed the suit in court on Friday.

It seeks $100-million in compensation for residents impacted by the explosion on August 26 near Erie Street and Talbot Street East.  General damages total $60-million, $20-million is in special damages, and the suit asks for $10-million each for aggravated and punitive damages.

Officials evacuated a large section around the blast site. To this day, some residents still can not return to their homes and businesses.

Latest boundaries of the evacuation zone in Wheatley. (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

Latest boundaries of the evacuation zone in Wheatley. (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

As a result, the suit seeks compensation for damages, including loss of use of office or residential space, lost income, the cost of seeking alternative living arrangements, replacement of belongings, damage to property, and physical or emotional injury.

About 20 people were injured that day, some requiring medical attention for serious injuries, and a year after the explosion, some residents still reported feeling anxious.

“Driving to that stoplight gives you a little bit of that anxiety because you don’t know,” said Christina Richardson this past August. “As much as they tell you that it’s safe, you have that thought in the back of your mind that it could happen again.”

Chatham-Kent Police Services, Chatham-Kent Fire Services, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Enbridge Gas, and Entegrus are named in the action.

An investigation into the blast confirmed what officials suspected. A hydrogen sulphide leak ignited in the pub’s basement, reducing that building and another to rubble and damaging nearby buildings with flying debris.

As of August 31, 2022, the emergency had cost Chatham-Kent $17.6-million. The province provided $5.9-million toward those expenses and $2-million in financial aid for residents and business owners.

An explosion in downtown Wheatley on August 26, 2021 brings a building down to rubble (Screengrab via Chatham-Kent Fire Twitter)

An explosion in downtown Wheatley on August 26, 2021 brings a building down to rubble (Screengrab via Chatham-Kent Fire Twitter)

“The people of Wheatley have shown tremendous strength in the aftermath of the devastating gas leak explosion,” said Premier Doug Ford at the time of the announcement. “They have pulled together and shown incredible resolve as the community works to rebuild what was lost.”

There may have been some warning ahead of time. Hydrogen sulphide leaks were detected in the area in June and July before the explosion, prompting evacuation orders and a state of emergency. There was a third leak in the hours ahead of the blast.

Since the blast, crews have worked to identify other leaks and abandoned gas wells. The final gas well was plugged in September, almost 13 months after the explosion.

Erie Street North from Foster Street and Talbot Street remains a no-go zone. The municipality finally opened Erie Street North at Little Street and Foster Street between Erie and Victoria Street earlier this month.