Numerous long-term care facilities and nursing homes across Ontario are facing civil lawsuits from medical malpractice lawyers related to their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents of long-term care facilities have been more acutely affected by the virus than any other group in the province. In Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, 70 per cent of all COVID deaths as of late June had occurred in long-term care facilities; Canada as a whole has fared worse than average at protecting nursing home residents.

Family members seeking accountability for the deaths of loved ones may face significant barriers in the near future. According to multiple reports in mid-June, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is considering a degree of immunity for organizations and individuals who spread COVID-19 while acting in ‘good faith.’

It isn’t yet clear whether this immunity would protect the province’s hardest-hit nursing facilities. Donna Duncan, the CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, told the CBC in an email that while she supports some degree of immunity, she believes grossly negligent care homes should face consequences.

“Civil liability protection is a necessary measure to stabilize and renew Ontario’s entire long-term care sector,” the email read. “Without it, many insurance companies will cease coverage and long-term care providers would be unable to continue operating. It in no way absolves responsibility when it comes to issues of gross negligence. There remains zero tolerance for the abuse and neglect of our seniors and any reckless or irresponsible operator should still be held accountable.”

Personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers have expressed concern.

“Under no circumstances should any immunity protection be granted to long-term care homes and their for-profit corporate owners for the conditions they created that led to the virus spreading through their facilities in the first place,” one pair of lawyers said in a statement to the CBC. “Families trusted these long-term care homes to take care of their loved ones and to protect them from infection and neglect.”

Despite this and similar protests from medical malpractice lawyers, Ontario would not be the first jurisdiction in North America to impose immunity rules from frontline workers. British Columbia recently passed a similar order, as have numerous US states.

For families of COVID-19 victims in long-term care facilities, these orders mean a lack of accountability and a lack closure.

“The kind of accountability the families are seeking, and the kind of accountability that Premier Ford has proposed, are two different things,” said Lorain Hardcastle, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of law and Cumming School of Medicine, in a second CBC report. “An inquiry that’s driven by the government and generates recommendations that the government may or may not implement … is very different than the families being able to drive the litigation and seek their own answers.”

For the time being, the Province of Ontario has not introduced legislation to protect long-term care providers. Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ class action lawsuit against Chartwell Retirement Residences and Long Term Care Homes is continuing as planned.

If you or a member of your family has been injured due to negligent care at a hospital, doctor’s office, long-term care facility, or any other medical setting, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers.

 

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Greg Neinstein