VANCOUVER — A civil suit has been filed on behalf of an orphaned toddler whose parents were killed in a deadly mudslide near Pemberton a year ago.
The civil claim was filed by Shyama Devi Minhas on behalf of her granddaughter, identified in court documents as Z.H.
Z.H. was two on Nov. 15, 2021, when her parents, Mirsad and Anita Hadsic, were swept off Highway 99 by a thundering wall of mud and debris following an atmospheric river that drenched the region and triggered dozens of slides on major roads and highways in B.C. and caused widespread flooding in the Fraser Valley.
Also killed in the mudslide were Brett Diederichs, Kevin Heffner, and Steven Taylor.
According to the notice of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the Hadsics were heading home to Metro Vancouver after a weekend getaway in Vernon in the Okanagan Valley. Because the Coquihalla Highway was closed, they headed onto Duffey Lake Road, also known as Highway 99, which was open and not subject to any warnings or alerts.
“They were funnelled onto Duffey Lake Road area that morning because, according to Drive B.C., that road was safe and manageable,” said Robert Gibbens, the plaintiff’s lawyer.
A first mudslide trapped dozens of vehicles on the highway. Later that day, around noon, another mudslide barrelled down the mountain into the path of people and cars who were “cornered like sitting ducks” as they waited for the debris from the first slide to be cleared, Gibbens said.
“Eyewitnesses said it occurred very quickly. The old-growth forest up there was falling like toothpicks.”
The claim, filed in March, alleged the Transportation Ministry was negligent by failing to close the highway and failing to get a geotechnical assessment.
Despite rocks strewn on the road and muddy water streaming down the mountainside causing some cars to “come off” the highway, prompting highway crews to respond, the highway remained open without any alerts or warnings as late as 9 a.m. that day, according to the claim.
The mudslide started on a logging road that the Crown knew or should have known had been improperly deactivated, said the suit, which alleges that mudslides were “entirely foreseeable” along the steep areas above the Duffey Lake Road area.
“The province has known about this for 15 to 20 years,” Gibbens said. “The water run-off was not properly handled, and if not properly decommissioned, the water can create a mudslide condition.”
The suit also named Kamloops-based Dawson Road Maintenance as a defendant. It alleged the maintenance contractor was negligent for failing to monitor the road and by not informing the ministry of the state of the highway.
Gibbens noted that the government proactively closed the highway on Dec. 1 when heavy rain increased the risk of landslides in the area.
The suit is seeking relief for Z.H. including damages for the loss of both parents, loss of economic support, and future care until she reaches the age of majority.
Gibbens is also seeking certification for a class-action lawsuit for other people impacted by the slide, including those who lost their vehicles or suffered post-traumatic stress from the incident, which has changed Z.H.’s life forever.
“It’s so sad because she probably won’t remember her parents,” Gibbens said. “Her grandmother is looking after her the best she can. It’s a sad situation from beginning to end.”
The certification hearing is scheduled for April.