New Brunswick

Nurse suing assailant testifies attack in Moncton hospital upended her life

A nurse attacked in a Moncton hospital testified the 2019 assault upended her life, resulting in continuing pain and financial harm.

Randy Van Horlick, convicted on criminal charges, a no-show for civil trial

Bruce (Randy) Van Horlick, shown leaving the Moncton courthouse in 2020, wasn't present Monday when the civil trial began. (Shane Magee/CBC)

A nurse attacked in a Moncton hospital testified Monday that the 2019 assault upended her life, resulting in continuing pain and financial harm. 

Randy Van Horlick was found guilty in 2020 of two criminal charges of assault and sentenced to six months in jail for attacking Poirier and nurse Teresa Thibeault at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital in March 2019.

Poirier filed a lawsuit against Van Horlick in 2020 seeking more than $1.5 million in compensation for loss of income and future earnings, and damages for assault, battery, mental suffering, and pain and suffering.

"It has turned my life upside down," Natasha Poirier testified at the start of the civil trial Monday. "It's not the same life anymore. I don't have the same capacities anymore."

Teresa Thibeault, left, and Natasha Poirier were assaulted by Randy Van Horlick in March 2019. (Tori Weldon/CBC )

She testified to a range of physical and psychological injuries that she said have left her only able to work about 6½ hours a week. She said 10 hours per week is the most she will likely be able to do in the future. 

She testified she had been unable to return to work at the hospital and was terminated by Vitalité Health Network in November. She said she wasn't given a reason for her dismissal. 

Kelly VanBuskirk, a lawyer representing Poirier, said her dismissal is the subject of a grievance by her union

Defendant absent

Van Horlick wasn't present for the trial and had not filed a statement of defence prior to the trial. He was noted in default, a term that under the rules of court means he is deemed to have admitted the allegations in the lawsuit. 

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Jean-Paul Ouellette said Monday morning that Van Horlick wrote to the court clerk's office last week seeking an adjournment because he doesn't have a lawyer. 

"This claim is totally fraudulent and without merit," the judge said Van Horlick wrote in an email to the court.

Van Horlick was told either he would need to be present or have a lawyer present Monday to seek the adjournment. Without either, the trial began.

After a lunch break, the judge said Van Horlick wrote to the court again saying he had fallen in his driveway and was unable to attend court. He asked for a court-appointed lawyer, which the judge brushed aside.

Poirier testified that prior to the March 11, 2019, attack, she worked about 52 hours per week at the Dumont hospital and was also a clinical case manager for Veterans Affairs Canada.

She planned to retire from Vitalité with a full pension at 65 and continue part time with other work.

"Working, that's who I was," Poirier testified. 

She earned about $136,000 in 2018 from two jobs and rental property income, according to tax records given to the judge. 

Lost income

The tax records show a drop in her income starting in 2019. 

"There was a violent attack on me at work that prevented me from returning to work at the time," Poirier said, before recounting the details of the unprovoked attack.

VanBuskirk said they want Van Horlick to pay $235,638 for income she lost between the time of the attack and Monday, among other costs.

He said assuming Poirier had not been attacked, kept her job without a raise and retired as planned at 65, she would have earned another $1.4 million. It's money they're now seeking from Van Horlick as lost potential income.

"This is the extent of the massive loss that Natasha Poirier has suffered as a result fo being attacked by Randy Van Horlick," VanBuskirk said in a closing argument.

VanBuskirk also asked the judge to award Poirier legal costs. He also sought punitive damages given Van Horlick's behaviour. The lawyer cited the email to the court as an example of how he still denies blame. 

"He perceives himself as the victim," VanBuskirk said.

Attack recounted

Poirier was in her office when Van Horlick came in to ask for his wife — a patient in the hospital — to be moved to another part of the unit.

She testified that the man she didn't know gave her three seconds to make a decision, then pulled her off her chair by her hair, punched her repeatedly on her left temple, and threw her against a wall, twisting her fingers backward. 

"This is a woman who was serving the public in a hospital and is now left with these consequences," her lawyer said to the judge.

Lawyers representing Poirier on Monday afternoon introduced several medical reports and affidavits of people who treated Poirier.

They described mental and physical harms that have continued since the attack and left her unable to return to work, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, difficulty reading and concentrating. 

The civil trial was scheduled to last two days, but it concluded late Monday afternoon. 

Ouellette, the judge, said he would issue a written decision  in the future.