Nova Scotia tries to claw back settlement for disabled woman

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice has reserved his decision in a case that has pitted the provincial government against the family of a young woman with a catastrophic brain injury.

Province claims it's entitled to insurance money from Joellan Huntley

Byron Huntley's daughter, Joellan, was injured in a traffic accident in April 1996 which left her unable to talk or walk. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice has reserved his decision in a case that has pitted the provincial government against the family of a young woman with a catastrophic brain injury.

Joellan Huntley was injured in a traffic accident in April 1996 which left her unable to talk or walk. She has to be fed through a tube.

The accident was caused when a driver swerved to avoid a dog on the road. The insurance companies for both the car owner and the dog owner settled with Huntley's family for almost $1.5 million.

When the province learned of the settlement, it launched legal action to claw back the money.

"It's been a long battle from the start," said Huntley’s father, Byron, outside court. "Well, not a battle, you know, it's always hanging over you, this same thing all the time."

In court Wednesday, Justice James Chipman grilled the lawyer for the province. He questioned why anyone in the situation faced by the Huntleys would bother to fight for an insurance settlement, only to have it clawed back.

"Why would anyone catastrophically injured even hire a lawyer?" Justice Chipman asked.

"It just seems rather perverse, doesn't it?"

Extra care for Joellan

The family has been using the settlement money to obtain extra care beyond the basics provided by the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre where she’s been living since the year after her accident.

"She's a lot better now, a lot brighter," said her mother, Louise Misner. "The last time she had bronchitis, she recovered in two weeks, without having to go into the hospital because she's having this therapy."

Huntley family lawyer Ray Wagner said the issues in this case go beyond Joellan and her family.

"It's not a large number of people that are in these circumstances, but they are all suffering the same way in terms of their needs, the extra needs for transportation, for instance, to be able to go home and visit their families, to be able to get things like ramps built around the homes so it makes them easier to access their families," Wagner said.

Justice Chipman is giving Wagner and the lawyer for the province until Jan. 9 to supply any extra documents to support their arguments. He's promising a written decision as soon as possible after that.