Dr. Gabrielle Horne wins $1.4 million lawsuit against Nova Scotia Health Authority
Largest decision ever in Canada for damages to reputation and career
Halifax cardiology researcher Dr. Gabrielle Horne has won a landmark $1.4 million lawsuit against the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the largest sum ever awarded in Canada for damages due to loss of reputation and career.
"I'm not aware of another Canadian court that's awarded damages for loss of reputation and loss of a career of this magnitude," said Michael Wright, Horne's lawyer. He called the decision a "victory."
Horne said she was shocked and overwhelmed by the verdict, which was delivered Friday morning by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury in Halifax. She said she would comment further on Saturday.
Horne's research in the field of cardiology was effectively shut down in 2002 when she and her colleagues had a dispute over who the research would be attributed to.
Dr. Ken West, who testified at the trial and is the president of the medical staff association in Horne's zone, said the situation boils down to "a classic case of workplace bullying.
"A number of her colleagues, I think, probably through jealousy, started to demand that she put their names on her papers which is not something that is considered to be acceptable in scientific research," said West.
"She said no and they said well, we're going to make you pay for this."
'Bullied by older male colleagues'
West said jealousy drove Horne's colleagues to eventually have her clinical privileges revoked, essentially shutting down her ability to access her patients and conduct her research.
"She was a junior female investigator being bullied by older male colleagues," he said.
The then Capital District Health Authority, which was later merged with others to form the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said at the time that it had concerns about Horne's collegiality and patient safety.
Four years lost
Wright said the hospital's own board of directors eventually decided those concerns were not sufficient to justify removing her privileges at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.
"The problem is, it took four years to make that decision," said Wright. "And during the four years, Dr. Horne's reputation and research career suffered terribly." She was also not considered for more grant funding.
And the battle continued to take its toll as the hospital dug in.
"The hospital quashed any sort of discussion of it and perpetuated on with the legal approach. Which, of course, has cost the system millions of dollars, even before today's announcement," West said.
A seven-member civil jury decided Friday, after a 33-day trial, that the Nova Scotia Health Authority acted in bad faith when it buried her privileges, and was solely responsible for what happened.
The jury awarded her $1.4 million dollars in damages, along with $167,460.90 in legal fees.
"I think it demonstrates that the way that the hospital dealt with her is not the way to deal with physician disputes," West added.
"The hospital needs to take a smarter approach when there's disputes between physicians. Physicians are no different than people in other industries. There are interpersonal differences, people have strained relationships. Just like in other places, those things are better dealt with on a personal level, and not on a legal level."
Health authority says it wants to move on
The Nova Scotia Health Authority issued a statement following the verdict.
"The events discussed occurred 14 years ago," said chief legal officer Catherine Gaulton.
"It's not appropriate for us today to revisit the actions of previous organizations or administrators. We look forward to moving on from this matter with a continued focus on fostering an environment for leading health research and care."
Gaulton added: "As a health authority, we are committed to ensuring staff and physicians have the right tools to do their jobs, and the appropriate environment to foster a respectful workplace."
Wright said it is unclear whether the money will allow Horne to continue her research. Some patients who were part of that original research have since died.
"It's not going to be quite sufficient to fund what's necessary to fully reproduce her research but it would be a good start," he said.