A judge says she will decide before Labour Day whether a proposed class action lawsuit alleging decades of negligence and mistreatment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre can proceed.
A statement of claim naming the New Brunswick government and Vitalité Health Network as defendants was filed in May 2019 on behalf of all patients who have resided or been treated at the facility in Campbellton since 1954. It seeks $500 million in damages.
The claim alleges the province and health authority were negligent in operation of the psychiatric facility. It also alleges breaches of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section protects people with a mental disability, among other groups, from discrimination.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Tracey DeWare presided over a three-day certification hearing in Moncton. The hearing is a procedural step to determine if the case continues to trial. DeWare told lawyers involved in the case that she will take several months to examine the 25,000 to 30,000 pages of documents filed so far and write her decision.
"This will obviously take a while," DeWare said.
She told the lawyers she will have a decision sometime before Labour Day.
Darrell Tidd and Reid Smith are the representative plaintiffs in the proposed class action. They are fathers and litigation guardians for their sons, Devan Tidd and Aaron Smith, who are patients at the hospital.
The hearing began Tuesday with James Sayce, the lawyer for the plaintiffs laying out why the case should be certified. Lawyers for the province and health authority argued on Wednesday why it shouldn't be certified.
Denis Thériault, a lawyer representing the provincial government, said a class action isn't the proper mechanism for the allegations, saying there aren't enough common issues with those who have resided at the facility over several decades.
The province argued that Vitalité operates the facility and the province isn't responsible for its policies and day-to-day operations.
On Thursday, Sayce offered a response to the defendant's arguments before the hearing ended.
"What the defendants are really saying here is that they don't think it's fair that they should answer for their misdeeds," he said.
He said the position ignores people allegedly harmed going back decades at the facility.
Lawyer Talia Profit, representing Vitalité, said Wednesday that a decision in the case to award the $500-million sought by the class action would harm the health authority's efforts to improve care at Restigouche and pay for its other health facilities in the province.
The case was filed after Ombud Charles Murray issued a report that found "significant mistreatment" of patients at the facility and safety risks to patients and staff. It found chronic under-staffing at the hospital.