Any individual who has been involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit understands the critical role registered nurses play in Ontario’s healthcare system. According to the, ‘nurses restore, maintain and advance the health of individuals, groups and entire communities’ by providing ‘direct nursing care … delivering treatment as prescribed by a physician, and in some cases administer medications.’ They also monitor and assess patients’ conditions, are essential to patients’ rehabilitation, and sometimes plan and deliver health programs for groups and communities.

When a patient loses their life, Ontario’s registered nurses may also be asked to participate in coroner’s inquests. This is may be an uncomfortable experience, but nurses’ testimonies can sometimes have a significant impact on a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Coroner’s inquests are not designed to assign blame to any individual healthcare practitioner, but to identify what went wrong and how similar events can be avoided. That’s not to say, however, that questionable decisions made by doctors or nurses that are revealed through an inquest won’t produce consequences down the road.

“Depending on how the evidence unfolds, there may be red flags raised about the behaviour of certain people involved,” said Tim Hannigan, a lawyer for Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), in an interview with Hospital News. “From the perspective of, say, a family … if they have a civil suit … (the evidence given at any inquest) may mean they double their focus on a particular person. (The inquest) may influence how the civil suit proceeds.”

Hence the importance of coroner’s inquests to lawyers litigating a medical malpractice lawsuit, and the apprehension some registered nurses may feel prior to their testimony. Regardless, Wendy Fucile, a past president of RNAO, believes inquests are vital to patient safety in Ontario.

“I think coroner’s inquests are an incredibly important part of our system,” she told hospital news. “It’s a privilege – maybe a bit scary, but still a privilege – to be able to be part of trying to make it better.”

The inquest process also serves as a grave – and necessary – reminder to healthcare professionals that patients’ lives are literally in their hands.

“Approach everything as if it’s as serious as something that could be the focus of a coroner’s inquest,” Hannigan advised. “Always document as if you are one day going to be on the stand testifying about it.”

If you or a member of your family believes you have grounds to initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Group to set up a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team will help you understand the potential challenges of civil lawsuits and guide you on your next steps forward.

Greg Neinstein