Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elliot Lake mall collapse spurs $30-M lawsuit

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ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. -- A shopping mall roof collapse that killed two women and wiped out a large portion of the local commerce in this northern Ontario city has sparked a $30-million lawsuit.

A local couple who owned a restaurant now shuttered by the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall is leading the suit, which they say has been filed on behalf of all those hurt by the collapse.

Elaine and Jack Quinte, owners of Hungry Jack's restaurant formerly located in the mall, said the collapse left devastating scars on the community.

Mall owner Eastwood Mall Corp., its controller Robert Nazarian, the city of Elliot Lake and the provincial government have been named in the proposed class-action lawsuit, according to a statement from lawyer Doug Elliott.

"Litigation is always a difficult process for people, but it is one way of securing justice for those who have been injured as a result of the carelessness of others," Elliott said in the statement. "In this case we believe that there were plenty of warnings about problems with the roof."

Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin were killed after a section of roof crashed through the two-storey building on June 23.

In a statement, Elaine Quinte said those who witnessed the collapse are suffering psychological trauma.

"I heard a terrible rumbling sound and saw the debris falling into the escalator area. I began to be struck by falling debris myself as my employee and I raced to get out of the area, terrified that we were going to be killed," she said.

"It was a horrifying experience and I still suffer loss of sleep and I get overcome with emotion whenever I think of the events of the day."

Jack Quinte said the mall had been in a poor state of repair for years. He said his wife reported at least one incident involving a chunk of concrete crashing through the restaurant's ceiling, adding management ignored her concerns.

The building's destruction has dealt a huge economic blow to the city. Todd Stencill, general manager of the local chamber of commerce, said the mall was home to at least 10 per cent of the city's retail space, and the collapse is thought to have wiped out an estimated six per cent of the community's wages.

The Ministry of Labour paid six visits to the mall over the past three years in response to persistent complaints about unsafe conditions. The suit alleges inspections were inadequate, and that the city did not heed long-standing complaints of unsafe conditions.

A lawyer representing the mall's owner was not immediately available to comment on the class-action suit, but has said the shopping centre received $1 million worth of renovations and had been inspected on a regular basis.

Safety concerns played a role in the abortive efforts to rescue Perizzolo and Aylwin. Teams armed with heavy equipment were forced to call off their search two days after the collapse, saying the structure was too fragile for a traditional rescue effort.

The operation resumed hours later after residents took to the streets in protest and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty intervened.

McGuinty ordered a public inquiry into the collapse, and the provincial police force has launched a criminal investigation.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 A22

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