City drops appeal against resident whose property was contaminated in oil spill

·3 min read
Gail Doucette has been living in the house since the 1980s. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
Gail Doucette has been living in the house since the 1980s. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

The City of Charlottetown has abandoned its appeal of a P.E.I. Supreme Court ruling awarding half a million dollars in damages to a woman whose home was contaminated from an oil spill on city property.

Gail Doucette was awarded $533,000 in damages by the court in March, nine years after the discovery of an oil spill involving an underground tank at the Sherwood Recreation Hall next to her home.

Doucette said the recurring smell of fuel on her property was so bad she could sometimes taste it, and said it made her home practically uninhabitable.

The city said it didn't know when the leak began or how much fuel was lost. Hundreds of tonnes of contaminated soil were removed, but test results confirmed there was still fuel in the bedrock below Doucette's home.

Doucette filed an initial statement of claim against the city in 2016. Justice Terri MacPherson ruled in Doucette's favour in the case on March 7, 2022. The same day CBC reported on the ruling, on April 11, the city filed notice it intended to appeal.

But on July 15 lawyers for the city told the court the city was abandoning that appeal.

City did not pay deposit

As part of the appeal process, the court had ordered the city pay a deposit of $525,000 to cover the previous award for damages, and that it pay Doucette $13,000 in costs for the appeal in advance.

The city did not provide the deposit of $525,000 to the court. Now that it's abandoned the appeal it is bound by the previous Supreme Court decision to pay the money to Doucette.

Brian Higgins/CBC
Brian Higgins/CBC

Two weeks after the ruling in her favour in March, Doucette filed another statement of claim seeking further damages, alleging the city was refusing to pay, thus causing Doucette further suffering because she was unable to move into a home that wasn't contaminated.

The new statement of claim has not yet been tested in court.

In an email, the City of Charlottetown said, "The City was advised that the appeal on this matter was discontinued by the Insurer. We were also notified that payment, as ordered, is forthcoming."

As a proviso in her original ruling, Justice MacPherson effectively ordered the city to buy Doucette's property, telling Doucette to transfer her home to the city within 30 days of the ruling in exchange for $375,000 out of the total $533,000 in damages.

In the latest statement of claim Doucette's lawyer Peter Ghiz argues the city refused to cooperate, providing neither the payment nor information needed to transfer the deed to the home.

Case 'has dragged on too long,' says councillor

The city said it wouldn't divulge how much it had spent on a particular case.

Doucette's local council member Bob Doiron said the case "has dragged on too long" and it's time for the city to pay up.

"I believe all residents of Charlottetown want this lady to receive what she deserves," said Doiron. "This leak was an accident caused by our property and we must do the right thing and help this lady get on with her life."