Wenhui Chen used to love visiting Loyola Park in Montreal's west end whenever she travelled to the city to see her daughter.
The 72-year-old would go there on foot to exercise daily and usually return around mid-day. It was a routine she developed while visiting from China.
It was on her way back to her daughter's house last October that she was hit by a car and suffered severe head trauma. She was in hospital for nearly a month before finally succumbing to her injuries.
"The coroner's report said she was crossing the street about five metres from the corner and cites human error as the root cause of the accident," said Linyan Tong, Chen's 43-year-old daughter.
It wasn't just Chen who was in the wrong, the report concluded. The driver was inattentive as well and did not see her, meaning both motorist and pedestrian shared the blame,
Tong, who lives in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, has since learned the hard way that sharing the blame means also sharing the cost as her mother, a citizen of China, racked up a substantial hospital bill.
Tong is expected to pay her portion of the $135,000 invoice because her mother was not a Canadian citizen.
Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, has told Tong she owes nearly $70,000. The SAAQ covers the rest under Quebec's no-fault insurance.
If Tong wants to dispute the claim, the SAAQ has told her to take it to court.
Language barriers and mourning
Tong, who struggles in French and is unable to speak English, has already been turned down for legal aide and says she doesn't have the money to pay for a lawyer, as she lost her job soon after her mother's death.
She was by her mother's side for a month in hospital, and after, she struggled to return to her job as a graphic designer — a job she had only recently earned after finishing school.
Now she's trying to challenge the case on her own.
"There is so much pressure," said Tong, her voice cracking with emotion as she remembered her mother and looked ahead to a challenging battle in Quebec Superior Court.
"It is very sad," she said. "It's very difficult."
She is planning to go to the scene of the collision to try to recreate the tragedy that unfolded, hoping to find something she can use in her mother's defence.
"I cannot accept that it was 50 per cent my mother's fault," said Tong, expressing concern for the intersection's design and with the investigation's findings.
MUHC says it plays by the rules
Tong's mother was treated at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).
A spokesperson for the hospital, Annie-Claire Fournier, says in a statement that the facility follows the health ministry's rules when it comes to treating patients who are not covered by the public health system, known as RAMQ.
Patients are treated no matter their insurance status and then billed accordingly, with rates dictated by the RAMQ, she explained.
Patients can often reclaim these costs against their private medical or travel insurance, Fournier said.
In the case of a car accident, an invoice detailing the care received will be sent to the SAAQ, which will determine the eligible amount for payment. Any remaining amount is then charged to the patient.
Tong says a social worker told her at the time the SAAQ will likely cover the costs.
Patients right advocate Paul Brunet says hospitals have to be up-front about costs. And Tong could have a good case to contest the bill. "If contractually, because it is a contract, you are told you won't have to pay anything and then you get a bill of $70,000, well the authorities have a problem and certainly the family has a defence in any claim," he said.
So as Tong readies to fight the charges in court, Brunet says this situation is a reminder of why travel insurance is so important when visiting countries abroad.
"We should never travel, wherever we do travel, without insurance," he said. "We think it is a joke and not important, but it is important. Whatever the cost."