Nova Scotia

Dalhousie, 811 and roommates sued in student alcohol death

The parents of a student who died last year from alcohol poisoning are suing Dalhousie University, the former operator of 811 and four roommates.

Claim alleges school, roommates owed student duty to care; 811 operator didn't ask enough questions

An international student from China died from alcohol poisoning after a night of drinking in a LeMarchant Place apartment last year. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The family of an international student who died last year from alcohol poisoning is suing Dalhousie University, the former operator of 811 and four roommates.

Xiaomeng (Melody) Shang was pronounced dead by paramedics in the early hours of Nov. 13, 2015, after she spent the night drinking with four students in an apartment in a Dalhousie-owned building on LeMarchant Street.

A statement of claim filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last week says Shang (who did not live in the apartment) became visibly drunk after drinking vodka with the four roommates on the night of Nov. 12, 2015. She was moved to the bathroom for several hours where she vomited and passed out.

A 'reasonably foreseeable result'

Eventually someone called 811 to get advice. Shang was eventually moved to a bed, where she vomited again, according to the statement of claim.

Early the next morning one of the roommates — identified in the statement of claim as Melin Wang, Felicity Barker, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 — noticed Shang wasn't breathing and called 911.

Paramedics declared the student from China dead shortly after their arrival. An autopsy ruled the cause of death to be alcohol poisoning. The claim says Shang's death "was the reasonably foreseeable result" of the breaches by the defendants.

Defendants owed a duty to care

It alleges Dalhousie, as owner and landlord of the building, was negligent because, among other things, it owed the student a duty of care to keep her safe, failed to adequately supervise the conduct of residents and guests, failed to prevent drunkenness and overconsumption of alcohol, and failed to ensure the safety of intoxicated people within the building.

The roommates are alleged to have been negligent because they, among other things, owed Shang a duty of care and failed to prevent overconsumption, take necessary steps to care for and monitor her once she became intoxicated, or seek advice and help once she passed out.

The claim alleges the 811 operator didn't ask enough questions to get an accurate picture of the situation, failed to give adequate advice or recommend the roommates seek medical treatment. It says McKesson Canada is liable because, as the employer of the operator, the company failed to adequately train and supervise its operator.

(Another company took over operation of the 811 telehealth service at the beginning of this month.)

Seeking damages

Shang's parents, Qi (Peter) Shang and Weihong Bai of Qingdao, Shandong province in China, and her estate are seeking damages for loss of care, guidance and friendship, loss of future financial support and expenses related to Melody's burial.

The allegations have not been tested in court. A Dalhousie spokesman said the university has yet to receive notice of the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for McKesson Canada said the company couldn't speak in detail as the matter is before the courts.

"We are saddened by this loss and extend our condolences to the young woman's family and friends. McKesson Canada has and will continue to fully co-operate with the authorities investigating the matter," said Darius Kuras in an email.