Supreme Court of British Columbia orders injunctive relief in sewage spill lawsuit against regional government

August 30, 2021

Ward v. Cariboo Regional District, 2021 BCSC 1495

In a July 30, 2021 decision, the Honourable Mr. Justice M. Taylor of the Supreme Court of British Columbia found the defendant, Cariboo Regional District (the “CRD”), liable for two sewage floods which resulted in separate spills that damaged and contaminated the property of plaintiffs Bawnie Elizabeth Ward and David John Ward (“the Wards”).

On two separate occasions, once in 2015 and again in 2020, a sewer line operated by the CRD backed up and overflowed resulting in a flooding of raw sewage onto land and a family home owned by the Wards. The 2015 spill, which was not cleaned up, was the third sewage spill on the Wards’ property and the largest, estimated to be 49,000 gallons; the volume of sewage in 2020 was less than in 2015, but nonetheless substantial. Consequentially, a lawsuit was brought against the CRD claiming liability in trespass, nuisance, negligence and pursuant to the cost recovery provisions of the Environmental Management Act (“EMA”).

In a 122-page decision, the Court found that there was a continuing trespass, a continuing nuisance and negligence on the part of the CRD, and adjourned, but did not dismiss, the EMA claim. Furthermore, the Court found that damages were not a sufficient remedy and made a 23-point injunctive relief order requiring the CRD to, among other things:

  • retain an engineering firm to test for remaining contamination on the property;
  • prepare a remediation plan for any contamination found in accordance with the Contaminated Sites Regulation and EMA;
  • complete any necessary restoration work and remediation work pursuant to the remediation plan;
  • repair the sewage system located on the property;
  • install backflow preventers, a gravity overflow and high-level alarm system on the property; and
  • perform other repairs to the property.

The court imposed timelines in respect of this injunctive relief and remains seized of the matter for the purposes of the injunctive relief. An additional amount of $77,000 for non-pecuniary and special damages were awarded as well as a small amount for diminution in value to the property assuming all of the injunctive relief is complete.

Heather L. Jones and Steven Evans (Civil Litigation, Environmental Law) of Miller Thomson LLP represented the successful plaintiffs in the proceedings.