New Brunswick

New information delays class-action lawsuit over labour-inducing drug

A new issue raised in a Moncton courtroom on Tuesday has delayed a hearing to determine if a class-action lawsuit can proceed against Horizon Health Network and a former nurse.

Issue raised at certification hearing is under a court-ordered publication ban

Plantiff lawyers John McKiggan, Mathieu Picard and Virginia Gillmore speak to reporters outside provincial court in Moncton on Tuesday. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

A new issue raised in a Moncton courtroom on Tuesday has delayed a hearing to determine if a class-action lawsuit can proceed against Horizon Health Network and a former obstetrics nurse.

The certification hearing began Monday for the lawsuit filed on behalf of mothers who believe they were improperly given oxytocin at the Moncton Hospital. 

The suit alleges Nicole Ruest, who worked in the labour and delivery unit between 2010 and 2019, administered the labour-inducing drug to pregnant women without their consent. Both Ruest and Horizon are named as defendants.

On Tuesday, lawyer John McKiggan, representing the women, brought new information to the attention of the court that arose overnight.

After the issue was briefly explained, Andrew Faith, Ruest's lawyer, asked for an interim ban on making it public. There were no objections, and Justice Denise LeBlanc of the Court of Queen's Bench imposed the publication ban.

The hearing was expected to continue on Tuesday with arguments from Ruest's lawyers, but Faith also requested an adjournment, which was granted and will delay the hearing. 

Lawyers representing the defendants want a ruling against certification and have argued the case does not meet the standards to proceed as a class action.

Plaintiff lawyers have argued the lawsuit should include women who believe they were improperly administered the drug during that time period and suffered harm as a result. 

Oxytocin is a drug used in labour and delivery that causes the uterus to contract. It can be dangerous for the health of the fetus as it can cut off oxygen supply and affect fetal heart rate.

Delay necessary, women's lawyers say

McKiggan of McKiggan Hebert Lawyers, and Mathieu Picard and Virginia Gillmore of Fidelis Law are representing the women. 

McKiggin said the delay before the courts is "unavoidable" and appropriate given the new issue.

Horizon Health says the women who've made allegations against the Moncton Hospital and a former nurse should file lawsuits individually, not as a class. (CBC)

"There's no doubt that the mothers that we represent have been waiting a long time for answers," he said in an interview outside the courthouse. "Our feeling is that it is best to let the court have all of the information before it, in order to make the best decision possible."

The certification hearing is to determine if a class action is preferable to litigation on a case-by-case basis. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs must prove it provides access to justice, judicial economy and could result in behaviour modification.

Picard said about 300 women have contacted his law firm after seeing media coverage of the proposed lawsuit.

"If we force [each of] those alleged victims to go forward with an action, file the action, get a lawyer, get experts — it's one more barrier to prevent these women from accessing justice," he said in the interview.

Oxytocin allegedly led to painful situations

On Monday, Gillmore presented affidavits from seven women who allege they were given the drug without their knowledge or consent. In many of those accounts, the women say they experienced massive contractions minutes after being given an IV bag. 

In some cases, the alleged administration of the drug placed the health of the baby in danger and resulted in a need for an emergency caesarean section.

In one instance described by Gillmore, the surgery needed to be performed without anesthetic as the mother's condition was urgent, and the anesthesiologist couldn't arrive in time. She allegedly needed to be held down to her bed by several nurses and blacked out from the pain as they cut her open.

Former nurse Nicole Ruest was fired in March 2019, after women at the Moncton Hospital were allegedly administered the labour-inducing drug oxytocin without their consent. (Instagram)

Catherine Bowlen, representing Horizon, told court on Monday the allegations should be litigated as individual instances of medical malpractice instead. She also took issue with the definition of class and said it would allow for people who gave birth, but didn't receive oxytocin, to be eligible.

A new date for the continuation of the proceedings has not been set by the court. The hearing is expected to resume late this year or in early 2022.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video Journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC New Brunswick based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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