By Gabrielle Giroday
WEST St. Paul's deputy reeve said he's furious with Manitoba Public Insurance for sending a letter to the rural municipality potentially blaming it for road conditions leading to a crash on the North Perimeter Bridge.
The high-profile crash on Feb. 5, involving 23-year-old Lisa Klassen, happened after Klassen's Jeep ran up a snowbank on the shoulder of the bridge, then plunged over the side onto the frozen Red River below, witnesses said.
Bruce Henley, West St. Paul's deputy reeve, said the letter sent Feb. 6 explained how a preliminary investigation by MPI -- acting on behalf of Klassen as an insurer -- found West St. Paul might be at fault for the crash because it didn't properly clear the roadway.
That suggestion is ridiculous, said Henley, because the bridge isn't even in the RM of West St. Paul and the highway falls under the province's jurisdiction.
"(The letter said) they conducted a preliminary investigation and it could appear that the RM of West St. Paul could be held fully responsible for the insurance damages as we failed to properly clear the snow from the bridge span," said Henley.
He said the letter then instructed the RM to contact their insurers and the RM would be contacted when the amount of damages was finalized, a process Henley said was ludicrous.
"We received this correspondence and... were disturbed they would send out this type of letter," he said. Henley said the crash was tragic and he was pleased to hear of Klassen's recovery, but the RM was concerned about the quality and accuracy of the MPI investigation.
"They're trying to get us to assume some type of liability... We're not responsible for the bridge," he said. "The accident didn't even happen in the RM of West St. Paul... and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation is responsible for all provincial highways including maintenance, signage, snow clearing."
Henley said the letter indicates MPI hasn't done a proper preliminary investigation.
"Our administration now has been forced to send it off to our insurer, our insurer has to send letters, and if anybody at MPI had been, you know, undertaking a thorough and proper preliminary investigation, they would have realized immediately the accident wasn't in our community," he said.
Brian Smiley, Manitoba Public Insurance's spokesman, said letters were sent out to the RM of West St. Paul and East St. Paul, as well as the City of Winnipeg and the province's highways department.
He later said responsibility for the North Perimeter Bridge is shared by East St. Paul and West St. Paul. Smiley stressed the letter was part of a "very preliminary" investigation involved in ascertaining damages, and that no party had been deemed liable yet.
When asked if the bridge was part of West St. Paul, Smiley said:
"Those are questions we're going to be asking. That's part of the whole process," he said. "By law, we have to send a letter. We have to send a letter to everyone and anyone we think may or may not be involved in this. If we don't send a letter, and down the road, the investigation shows municipality X was in fact liable, and we didn't send the letter, then we're not able to recover damages. Legally, we have to send the letters out."