hi-nb-serena-perry

Serena Perry, 22, was found dead in the hospital's amphitheatre on Feb. 14, 2012. (Courtesy of Castle Funeral Home)

The family of Serena Perry has filed a lawsuit against the Saint John Regional Hospital on the second anniversary of her body being discovered in the hospital's amphitheatre.

Perry, 22, was a patient under the care of the psychiatric unit at the time.

Her family is also suing the psychiatrist responsible for her care, Dr. Pamela Forsythe. It has also been suggested that Perry may have committed suicide.

In addition, the family is suing a fellow psychiatric patient, Brandon McFarland, whom they accuse of assaulting and battering Perry and "intentionally or negligently" asphyxiating her.

Although the Saint John Police Force had investigated Perry's death as a homicide and had a suspect in mind, no charges were ever laid. Police said a forensic pathology examination could not determine her cause of death.

But in a sworn affidavit filed with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John, Perry's mother, Margaret Roseanne (Rose) Perry says she has a copy of an autopsy report, which concluded her daughter's death was due to strangulation.

"I want somebody accountable for my daughter's murder," Perry's mother told CBC News on Friday. "And once justice is here, hey, maybe my heart might get back together, maybe I can start my life again."

The lawsuit claims Perry's death was "caused by the actions of McFarland and the negligence, breach of contract and or breach of fiduciary duty of [the hospital] and Dr. Forsythe."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

No statements of defence have been filed.

A coroner's inquest into Perry's death is scheduled to be held next month. Perry's mother has also filed notice with the court she will be fighting for the right to have standing at that hearing.

Failed to protect Perry

Perry was involuntarily admitted to the Saint John Regional Hospital on Jan. 11, 2012, according to the statement of claim. Four days later, she was given permission to leave the psychiatric unit unsupervised, the documents state.

On Feb. 14, at 9:36 p.m., she signed out of the unit for a smoking break and McFarland signed out at the same time to accompany her, according to Perry's mother, who says she has a copy of the sign out sheets as well as surveillance video.

Perry and McFarland went to the amphitheatre, located in another section of the facility, where Perry's body was subsequently discovered, the documents state.

Perry's family alleges the hospital failed to:

  • Provide proper and appropriate equipment to protect Perry.
  • Have proper and appropriate policies and procedures for the protection and supervision of Perry.
  • Have proper and appropriate policies for the delivery of medical care to her.
  • Have competent medical staff.
  • Provide all medical services with reasonable care and skill.

The lawsuit claims Perry's psychiatrist failed to:

  • Perform an adequate medical examination of her.
  • Determine if she had suicidal thoughts.
  • Recognize the serious nature of Perry's condition.
  • Take appropriate measures in regards to her supervision and protection.
  • Inform the appropriate hospital personnel of the serious nature of her condition.

It also alleges the other patient, McFarland "knew or ought to have known he was a danger to others, including Perry."

Perry's mother is seeking special damages, general damages, punitive damages, costs and interest on behalf of herself, Perry's sisters, Melissa Rose Perry and Tasha Lea King, and Perry's father, Kenneth Hayward.

Seeking standing at coroner's inquest

She has also filed a notice of action that she is seeking a judicial review of the decision by chief coroner Gregory Forestell and presiding coroner John Evans to deny her standing at the coroner's inquest, scheduled to begin on March 17.

She contends the decision should be quashed.

"I have many unanswered questions in relation to my daughter's death and I believe the system has failed her. I believe SJRH staff and the health authority failed to protect Serena, and the police failed to fully investigate her death and press charges," the document states.

"I am concerned that my interests and those of my deceased daughter will not be properly represented at the coroner's inquest unless I can have my own lawyer call, examine and cross examine witnesses. I do not believe it is fair for me to rely on the same lawyer to ask questions, as the other interested parties."

The inquest is intended to determine the facts surrounding Perry's death. The presiding coroner and a jury will publicly hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses during the two weeks that have been set aside.

The jury will also have an opportunity to make recommendations to prevent deaths under similar circumstances.

The Horizon Health Network, which has also been denied standing at the coroner's inquest, is also seeking a judicial review.

"Full participatory rights at the inquest are necessary to enable Horizon to ensure that all relevant evidence with respect to its conduct in the matter is placed before the jury, and to enable it to respond to criticism or allegations that may arise in the course of the inquest," the notice of application states.

"This will assist in ensuring that Horizon and its employees are treated fairly, and that the public interest is fulfilled by a thorough inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Ms. Perry and the generation of useful recommendations to prevent further injury or death in similar circumstances."