A New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge has reserved decision in what could be a precedent-setting lawsuit against WorkSafeNB.
Murray Goodwin, a former tugboat worker, is suing the workers' compensation system for $5 million for allegedly failing to give him the proper care and respect he says he deserved after a workplace accident in 1987.
The case is the first of its kind to reach this stage in Canada, according to WorkSafeNB lawyer John Barry.
He and his researchers were unable to find any other case across the country where the courts have addressed standard of care relative to a workers' compensation claim, Barry told the Saint John courtroom.
Workers can't sue workers' compensation, argued Barry. Workers give up their common law right to action against employers in exchange for employers paying into the system, he said.
"Other cases went to the Supreme Court of Canada — [cases in] Newfoundland, and B.C. and various provinces — that very clearly stated that a worker has no right to sue the Workers' Compensation Board. And we attempted in an application before [Justice Hugh] McLellan to have this dismissed at an early stage," Barry told CBC News outside the courtroom.
"Mr. Justice McLellan recognized that exclusive jurisdiction and that inability. But because of wording in that pleading, 'abuse of process,' more than anything else, he felt the case should go forward. But relative to what we described as duty of care, there is no decision in Canada that says workers' compensation is bound to exercise a duty of care."
Could reach higher courts
If Goodwin succeeds, Barry says the case will be challenged in higher courts.
"This challenges the fundamental aspects of workers' compensation," he said.
"If successful, it will have an effect on workers' compensation boards not just in New Brunswick, but across the country. So it automatically will be appealed, there is no doubt. Both in New Brunswick, and after New Brunswick … It will end up in the Supreme Court of Canada."
Barry described Goodwin as a man with unrealistic expectations who was obsessed with WorkSafeNB.
He said he rejected the idea that Goodwin was suing in the public interest. He argued Goodwin's sole interest in bringing the suit was to disparage the system and its employees and that Goodwin should apologize to the employees he has maligned.
Goodwin's lawyer, Eugene (Pete) Mockler, argued his client is not obsessive, but has the kind of perseverance anybody would envy.
Goodwin, who is now in his 70s, says he is nearly bankrupt after spending about $200,000 fighting his case, which has been winding its way through the courts since 2009.
The trial itself has taken up 22 days.
Goodwin says he had a bad fall while working on a tugboat in the Saint John Harbour in 1987 and hasn't worked since.
He contends WorkSafe failed to appreciate the severity of his injuries and he was repeatedly denied treatment and surgery recommended by doctors.
Goodwin says dealing with WorkSafe was a "journey of terror" and that he's suing for other injured workers who might be poorly treated.
He is accusing WorkSafe of gross carelessness, claiming it inflicted far more damage on his life than the original accident.
Justice Ray French reserved decision. He did not indicate when he would render his ruling, but said he would send a written copy to the lawyers.