Halifax cardiologist sees reduced damages of $800K in suit against health authority

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal rejected Dr. Gabrielle Horne's appeal and reduced the damages awarded to her to $800,000 from $1.4 million, but her lawyer says it's still the highest penalty handed down in Canada.

Nova Scotia Court of Appeal rejects appeal by Dr. Gabrielle Horne to also sue for breach of contract

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal reduced the amount of damages awarded to Dr. Gabrielle Horne to $800,000 from $1.4 million. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

A Halifax cardiologist who successfully sued the former Capital District Health Authority after her hospital privileges were reduced has lost her appeal to also sue for breach of contract, but her lawyer said her claim of bad faith remains vindicated.

Dr. Gabrielle Horne had a high-profile research grant in 2002, and claimed that colleagues tried to add their names to her research papers. Horne said when she refused, her privileges at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre were changed so she was unable to do her research anymore. She sued the health authority for loss of reputation and career.

The case wound its way through the court for a decade before a 33-day trial in which a jury, on June 17, 2016, awarded Dr. Gabrielle Horne $1.4 million in damages against Capital Health for administrative bad faith. It was the largest sum ever awarded in Canada for damages due to loss of reputation and career. 

The provincial health authority appealed the jury's findings and was able to reduce the amount of the award.

Horne also filed an appeal, saying the judge erred when he instructed the jury not to consider her breach of contract claim.

Legal fees exceed award

In a decision released Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal rejected Horne's appeal and allowed the health authority's appeal, reducing the amount of damages to $800,000 from $1.4 million.
Michael Wright is the lead lawyer representing Dr. Gabrielle Horne. (Cavalluzzo LLP)

Her Toronto lawyer, Michael Wright, said the reduced amount of damages is "disappointing," and acknowledged that her legal fees are in excess of $800,000.

He said the amount was reduced because the appeal court found that the trial judge's instructions to the jury were unclear, creating a risk the jury was confused about which damage claims it needed to consider.

An award for $167,000 for legal fees she incurred to regain her hospital privileges between 2002 and 2006 was not changed.

Still the highest damage award in Canada

However, Wright said that $800,000 is still the highest award for loss of reputation in the country.

"The court is saying this is the most serious damage to reputation that we've ever seen in Canada and we're going to compensate Dr. Horne accordingly."

While the award has been reduced, Wright said Horne can take solace in the fact that the court validated her claim that she was exposed to bad faith over 15 years.

In the appeal court ruling, the justices said they were "satisfied that Capital Health's bad faith caused significant and lasting damage to Dr. Horne's reputation," and concluded the consequences will follow her "well into the future."

"Just as being unethical afflicts the core of a lawyer's professional integrity, being termed a risk to patients pierces the heart of what is expected of a physician. It is hard to imagine a more vital blow to a medical professional's station," said the judgment.

Wright said the finding from the highest court in Nova Scotia "completely vindicates" Horne's allegations made during the trial.

Horne declined the CBC's request for an interview, saying she needed time to review the decision.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said in an email statement, "This has been a lengthy process for all parties and NSHA looks forward to moving on from this matter with a continued focus on fostering an environment for leading health research and care."

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu

Reporter

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia and host of Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.