Hearing underway to decide if Restigouche Hospital Centre class action can proceed
Lawsuit alleges decades of mistreatment of patients at New Brunswick's only psychiatric hospital
A hearing began this week to determine if a proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of patients at the Restigouche Hospital Centre alleging decades of negligence can proceed to trial.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Tracey DeWare is presiding over the certification hearing in Moncton that began Tuesday and continued throughout Wednesday.
A statement of claim naming the New Brunswick government and Vitalité Health Network as defendants was filed in May 2019 on behalf of all patients who have resided or been treated at the facility in Campbellton since 1954. It seeks $500 million in damages.
The claim alleges the province and health authority were negligent in operation of the psychiatric facility. It also alleges breaches of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section protects people with a mental disability, among other groups, from discrimination.
The claims have not been tested in court.
Darrell Tidd and Reid Smith are the representative plaintiffs in the proposed class action. They are fathers and litigation guardians for their sons, Devan Tidd and Aaron Smith, who are patients at the hospital.
The province and Vitalité argued Wednesday the case shouldn't be certified, citing various reasons.
Denis Thériault, a lawyer representing the provincial government, told DeWare that a class action isn't the proper mechanism for the allegations.
"We reject that this is the proper process," Thériault said Wednesday, saying there aren't enough common issues with all patients of the facility for a class action.
He said individual patients alleging problematic treatment should instead file medical malpractice cases. Vitalité lawyer Talia Profit echoed that point later in the day.
"Individual actions would be more practical, more efficient," she said. She said that way the cases could name defendants who are more relevant to their claim, such as specific physicians.
Thériault also said the province isn't responsible for the policies and day-to-day operations of Restigouche. He acknowledged there have been issues at the facility.
"It's not without its challenges, no one is going to deny that, at least from our end as the province," Thériault said.
The case was filed after Ombud Charles Murray issued a report that found "significant mistreatment" of patients at the facility and safety risks to patients and staff. It found chronic under-staffing at the hospital.
Whether that report can be used as part of the case is in dispute as part of the certification hearing.
Profit argued that the damages totalling hundreds of millions would harm Vitalité's efforts to improve care at Restigouche.
"The kind of damages they're looking for would cripple those efforts," she said.
A large financial payout would also harm Vitalité's ability to pay for the other health–care facilities it manages, she said.
The hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday. It's unclear how soon DeWare will issue a decision on whether to certify the class action.