Details Emerge from Orchard Villa’s Fight Against COVID-19 Outbreak

Dozens of nursing homes across the Province of Ontario experienced large COVID-19 outbreaks during the height of the pandemic. None were affected more severely than Orchard Villa Retirement Community in Pickering. On May 25, 2020, Will Davidson LLP announced a COVID-19 class action lawsuit against Orchard Villa and its owner, Southbridge Care Homes. On June 23, the Statement of Claim was amended to include Extendicare (Canada) Inc., the home’s operator.

“When COVID-19 hit both the owners and managers of Orchard Villa were woefully unprepared to deal with the crisis,” said Gary Will, the lead counsel on the case and a Will Davidson LLP partner, in a statement. “Orchard Villa has the very highest death rate in a long term care facility in Ontario with 85 deaths and a total of 269 infections. This home was grossly mismanaged. Extendicare and Southbridge must be held to account and there must be justice for the residents and their families.”

On June 11, the Durham Region medical officer of health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at Orchard Villa ended. In the following months, a clearer picture of the full scope of the outbreak has emerged, as well as a better understanding of what went wrong.

According to a recent report in the Toronto Star, ‘inspectors from the Ministry of Long-Term Care acting on a complaint found more than a dozen instances in which the home failed to comply with regulations’ in May and June. These failures included:

  • Not training staff on infection control and containment within a week of hiring, a regulation instituted by the Ministry in March in direct response to the pandemic,
  • Not providing an adequate skin assessment to a fallen resident, and,
  • Not preventing the administration of an unprescribed medication to a resident.

Additionally, when Lakeridge Health assumed temporary management of the facility at the medical officer’s request in June, it found that the home was “significantly understaffed.”

Speaking with the Star, Patricia Spindel, co-founder of the advocacy group Seniors For Social Action Ontario, said: “Clearly the oversight of that facility has been in my view negligent on the face of it because you see no director’s orders issues, you see no licence revocations, you see no ceases admissions. That speaks to oversight that is off the rails.”

Also speaking with the Star, Laura Tamblyn, CEO of national seniors’ advocacy group CanAge, said: “We know that when there’s consistent failure to comply and where the outcomes are dangerous to residents, that there needs to be not just appropriate support but appropriate response, which means there needs to be teeth in the inspection and legislation. What we’ve seen with COVID is not so much a surprise but just an illumination of the problems in the system that we always knew were there. The question is: will we now actually fix it?”

Orchard Villa’s failures were particularly egregious given their surrounding circumstances. The home’s owner, operator, and staff should have redoubled efforts to ensure residents’ safety with the knowledge that COVID-19 poses unique risks to the sick and elderly. However, as Laura Tamblyn alluded to, the failures were part of an established pattern of inadequate care at the home.

“Orchard Villa was investigated by the Ministry of Long Term Care on nineteen occasions from 2017 to 2019 in response to specific complaints concerning serious deficiencies in the level of care at Orchard Villa,” said Gary Will, in the same statement. “The Ministry spent over 43 days at Orchard Villa investigating the complaints. The Ministry issued 65 written warnings, 32 voluntary plans of correction, 12 compliance orders, and referred 3 matters to the Director.”

Family members of Orchard Villa residents are desperate for change and eager to the hold the facility to account. Sylvia Lyon is the representative plaintiff in our COVID-19 class action. Her mother, a resident at the facility, died from the illness in April.

“My mother was a good, decent individual who had overcome many obstacles in her life,” Lyon said in a statement. “We entrusted her care to the owners of Orchard Villa. In addition to the amounts many families paid to have their mothers and fathers looked after, Orchard Villa received over $11 million in funding each and every year from the Ontario government. Yet each year the care provided was less and less. There needs to be accountability to the taxpayers of the province and to the families of residents who passed away over the last two months.”

Speaking with the Star, June Morrison, whose father George was also a resident at Orchard Villa and also died of COVID-19, said: “I personally think they need their license revoked. They have proven time after time based on the inspection reports that they fail to live up to regulations and legislation.”

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More About our COVID-19 Class Action

If your family has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak at Orchard Villa or any other long-term care facility in Ontario, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. In addition to our COVID-19 class action against Orchard Villa, our team is investigating or actively pursuing claims against several other facilities. Learn more here.

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Are Canada’s Drunk Driving Rules Strict Enough?

As car accident lawyers, the Will Davidson LLP legal team receives inquiries from clients who have been injured in a car accident and are seeking legal advice. Through drunk driving has declined in Canada (in the mid-1990s, well over 1,000 Canadians per year were killed in impaired driving accidents; by the mid-2010s, the number was less than 500) it remains far too common.

The dangers of drunk driving are clear: alcohol intoxication slows reaction time, reduces coordination, makes it difficult to concentrate, impairs vision, and inhibits judgement, all of which contribute to unsafe driving. For years, the federal and provincial governments, in partnership with advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, have sought to spread this message through aggressive public education campaigns. Schoolchildren are taught that drunk driving is unacceptable from a young age; MADD commercials run regularly during high-viewership television events.

In late 2018, new federal laws came into effect with the aim of further discouraging drunk driving. Previously, first-time offenders faced a minimum fine of $1,000; second-time offenders faced a minimum penalty of 30 days in prison; and repeat offenders faced a minimum of 120 days in prison.

Under the new laws, first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of between 80 and 119 mg per mL face a minimum fine of $1,000; first-time offenders with a BAC between 120 and 159 mg face a minimum fine of $1,500; and first-time offenders with a BAC over 160 mg face a minimum fine of $2,500. First-time offenders who refuse to be tested face a minimum fine of $2,000.

The penalty for second- and third-time offenders remains a minimum of 30 and 120 days in jail, respectively. Impaired drivers who cause an accident causing no bodily harm face up to 10 years in prison. Those who cause an accident causing bodily harm face up to 14 years, and those who cause an accident resulting in death can face life in prison.

The new penalties were generally accepted by road safety advocates and car accident lawyers. However, some still question whether they are sufficient. A recent Toronto Stararticle suggests that some drunk drivers in Ontario are treated too leniently.

On June 21, 2020, 27-year-old Darya Selinevich of Richmond Hill was arrested while driving dangerously on Highway 400 south of Barrie. According to an agreed statement of facts, as reported by the Star, Selinevich was “swerving from side to side” in heavy traffic and repeatedly almost struck the median. A breathalyzer showed she had a BAC of over 160 mg. A dozen empty beer containers were reportedly found in her vehicle.

Shockingly, this was Selinevich’s third arrest for impaired driving. In 2015, she received a one-year ban for speeding with a BAC of twice the legal limit. Just a month later, she struck and killed a cyclist on Finch Ave West, fled the scene, and led police on a chase through a residential neighbourhood. She had been drinking heavily and was travelling at twice the speed limit when the collision occurred, according to the Star.

Selinevich received a seven-year sentence for her role in the death, which was reduced to 4 ½ years for time served. She was granted day parole in early 2018, and later granted full parole on the condition that she did not drink and did not drive.

Following her most recent arrest, Selinevich pleaded guilty to impaired driving and driving while suspended. The Crown is seeking a prison sentence of two years less a day; her defence is seeking a sentence of no more than 15 months. For many observers, including some car accident lawyers, both proposals are too low. Selinevich has a history of impaired driving and apparently learned nothing from her role in a man’s death. Previous jail time and existing driving bans did nothing to discourage her from getting back behind the wheel while intoxicated.

As MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie told the Star: “Families who have been impacted by impaired driving will think this is outrageous.”

As car accident lawyers, the team at Will Davidson LLP can help victims of drunk driving find closure where the criminal justice system cannot. Our team has helped numerous accident victims access compensation to mitigate the costs of recovery.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a car accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer. Although our team has experience with claims involving impaired driving, we also provide representation in accident benefits claims, insurance disputes, and more.

Reach out today to learn more about our services and experience. Will Davidson LLP offers representation on a contingency basis, meaning you won’t be charge up-front or hourly legal fees. Instead, our team will accept a pre-arranged percentage of the final legal settlement as payment. This approach is used by most personal injury law firms in Ontario to ensure access to justice for all Ontarians.

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Court of Appeal Upholds Decision in Will Davidson LLP Birthing Injury Case

Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a 2019 jury decision in favour of Bernice Booth, Michael Woods, and their daughter Kelsey in a suit against obstetrician Dr. Allan Jackiewicz. The family alleged that a birthing injury caused by Dr. Jackiewicz’s negligence resulted in serious brain damage at birth, which caused Kelsey to experience catastrophic cerebral palsy. They were represented by Will Davidson LLP personal injury lawyer Paul Cahill.

Medical malpractice lawsuits in Ontario are notoriously challenging for plaintiffs; this case took nearly a decade to resolve and resulted in an award of more than $11-million for Kelsey and her family.

“It was an emotional verdict. Two of the jurors were in tears when the verdict was read. Everyone was emotional,” Cahill told the St. Catharines Standard following the initial jury decision in 2019. “You can imagine a lifetime of caring for a disabled child and finally getting the recognition that it was the fault of someone else. It was a very powerful moment.”

The jury heard expert testimony from both sides of the dispute. Jackiewicz’s legal team argued that the evidence provided no proof of substandard care or lack of due diligence. He denied all wrongdoing.

What Happened?

Kelsey was born in July 1991. In May of that year, Booth underwent an ultrasound that determined she was pregnant with twins. No abnormalities were detected. In the following weeks, Booth experienced growing discomfort and began to quickly gain weight. She visited Dr. Jackiewicz in early July. Following an exam, the doctor instructed her to return home, lie on her side and watch TV; he believed it would be more than a month before she entered labour.

Just days later, on July 7, Booth entered labour and Kelsey was born with serious developmental impairments. Her twin sister, Karli, experienced significant hearing loss; she was also named in the claim.

Booth was diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition where one of the twins in the womb receives reduced blood flow. The plaintiff’s expert witness testified that with a timely diagnosis and proper treatment, Booth’s labour could have been delayed and the pregnancy would have resulted in a “normal outcome.”

How Were Kelsey and her Family’s Lives Affected?

Kelsey’s life has been severely impacted by her condition. As Cahill told the Standard, “Kelsey is a quadriplegic. She is completely dependent on her parents for care. She can’t walk. She can’t do anything for herself. They have to bathe her and change her diapers”

“When we first brought the children home it was utter chaos,” added Booth. “There was still a lot of medical care. They were on oxygen, so we had these two babies with little oxygen tanks. Just taking them to the doctor’s office was an ordeal. They hadn’t learned to feed properly. They didn’t have it in them yet. I had to take a tube and put it right down their throat into their stomach and fill up the syringe They ate that way for a couple of months.”

“I was sort of a caregiver-nurse, which sometimes interfered with me being a mum,” she continued. “There was the constant worry about them getting enough oxygen. It was quite a struggle.”

The Appeals Process

Because Dr. Jackiewicz appealed the lower court’s decision, Kelsey’s parents did not receive any of the compensation they were awarded.

“Bernice and Kelsey haven’t received any money yet,” personal injury lawyer Paul Cahill told the Standard in an interview last month. “The doctor can still try to seek leave from the Supreme Court of Canada for another appeal, so this isn’t necessarily over. It’s more like Round 2 of a pretty tough fight, but when you read the appeal decision it doesn’t really appear Dr. Jackiewicz had the strongest position.”

Indeed, the Court of Appeal wrote in its decision that it was “not persuaded that there was any material misdirection or non-direction by the trial judge that warrants appellate intervention.”

Despite the threat of another appeal from the defendant, Kelsey’s family was reportedly pleased with the appellate court’s decision in the birthing injury case.

“I would say the family is overjoyed with the result from the court and the decision to dismiss the physician’s appeal,” said Cahill. “They are very much looking forward to focusing on using the funds they will hopefully now receive to make Kelsey’s life better.”

Contact a Will Davidson LLP Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a member of your family has been affected by a birthing injury as a result of medical negligence, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Our team has a wealth of experience in every area of personal injury law, including serious medical and birthing errors.

Will Davidson LLP offers its services on a contingency basis, meaning our clients are not asked to pay hourly, up-front legal fees. Instead, our team will accept a percentage of the final settlement as payment. This approach allows us to offer access to justice for all Ontarians.

LAT Rejects Benefits Claim Involving Spilled Beverage

When does an injury suffered in a motor vehicle not count as a motor vehicle accident? That was the question at the centre of M.P. vs. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, a recently resolved accident benefits dispute. The case provides additional context for car accident lawyers involved in non-traditional accident benefits claims.

The Facts of the Case

According to a June report from Law Times, the applicant in the case purchased a cup of hot tea at a fast food drive through window. She left the restaurant, stopped at a red light, and noticed that the lid wasn’t secured. She picked up the tea from its tray on the passenger’s seat, attempted to secure the lid, and then spilled the tea as she attempted to place it in the automobile’s cup holder. She filed for benefits under Ontario’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

The plaintiff’s insurance provider, Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, argued that the plaintiff was not eligible for accident benefits as her injuries were unrelated to the normal use of an automobile. Instead, Allstate suggested the fast food employee who handed the plaintiff the tea may have been negligent. The plaintiff herself may also have contributed to her injuries.

Background: What are Statutory Accident Benefits?

Most auto insurance policies in Ontario guarantee benefits for injuries in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of who is at fault. The amount of benefits depends on the severity of the injuries and are applied based on the province’s SABS.

Some of the benefits available under the SABS include income replacement benefits, non-earner benefits, benefits to cover the costs of attendant care, medical care, and rehabilitation, death and funeral benefits, and more.

When an insurance policy holder and an insurance provider do not agree on the amount of benefits being provided, they may seek a resolution from Ontario’s Licence Appeals Tribunal.

Background: What is the Licence Appeals Tribunal?

According to its website, the Licence Appeals Tribunal (LAT) is “an independent, quasi-judicial agency and is one of five tribunals in the Safety, Licensing Appeals and Standards Tribunals Ontario (SLASTO) cluster.”

The LAT contains two divisions: General Service and Automobile Accident Benefits Service (AABS). The latter’s mandate is to “resolve disputes about an insured person’s entitlement to, or amount of, statutory motor vehicle accident benefits.”

What Did the LAT Decide?

The LAT agreed with Allstate’s assertion that the plaintiff’s injuries were unrelated to the normal operation of a motor vehicle, and decided that the plaintiff was not entitled to accident benefits.

“Nothing about the vehicle caused her to spill the tea,” wrote tribunal adjudicator Therese Reilly. “The fact that she was in a vehicle was simply incidental.”

In coming to this decision, the LAT examined Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, a 2016 case that also involved a spilled beverage and a drive through window. In that case, the plaintiff was injured when a hot coffee was spilled as it was passed from the window into the automobile. The LAT decided in the plaintiff’s favour, reasoning that she would not have been at the drive through window if she had not been in an automobile, and she would not have been injured if she were not wearing a seatbelt. Importantly, no intervening events took place between accepting the drink and the injury.

The LAT also applied two tests to determine the automobile’s involvement in M.P.’s injuries. The first was the ‘purpose test,’ which asks whether the injury resulted from the ordinary use of the vehicle. The second, the ‘direct causation test,’ asked whether use or operation of the vehicle caused the injuries.

While the LAT’s decision was not in favour of the plaintiff in M.P. vs. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, it also helps to clarify the ruling in Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada and provide added context for car accident lawyers interested in pursuing similar cases.

Contact Will Davidson LLP to discuss your claim

If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, contact Will Davidson LLP’s car accident lawyers to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team can help you access the fair and reasonable compensation you deserve.

Will Davidson LLP’s car accident lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning we will not charge hourly or up-front legal fees for our services. Instead, our team will accept a percentage of the final settlement as payment. This approach allows us to offer access to justice to every Ontarian in need, regardless of their financial circumstances.

With decades of experience in every manner of personal injury claim, Will Davidson LLP is a strong, reputable ally for injured Ontarians. Contact us today to learn more about how our experienced team can help.

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Ontario Grapples with Growing Trial Backlog Amid COVID-19

As the country gradually rolls back COVID-19 lockdown measures, court systems across Canada are considering how to safely reopen their doors. In Ontario, where courts already faced a significant backlog, there have been no jury trials and limited judge-only trials since a state of emergency was declared in March. As a result, numerous personal injury lawyers and their clients are facing delays on the road to compensation.

The province is considering a number of options to alleviate the backlog, including the suspension or elimination of jury trials for certain civil proceedings. In early June, Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey sought input from legal stakeholders on this matter.

“The needs of the justice sector have changed during this outbreak, and the demands on the system will continue to evolve as we begin to see the province reopening in stages,” the Attorney General wrote in a letter to stakeholders. “To address these changes, we will continue to act on the guidance of public health experts, and we will continue to work together to develop new ways of conducting matters.”

Assembling a jury is one of the most time-consuming aspects of any civil trial. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will make the process even more difficult. Proponents of eliminating or suspending jury trials say it would allow Ontario to work through its backlog more quickly and provide greater access to justice for a larger number of claimants.

The proposal has support among some personal injury lawyers. One Windsor-based law firm issued a statement reading:

“Although we truly value our clients’ right to have a jury of peers decide their case, the realities of COVID-19 mean that our clients will suffer many more years of delay to get their cases to court. COVID-19 has closed our courts to jury trials. Eliminating juries will avoid more delay because we can immediately try cases ‘online/remotely’ before a single judge.”

In his letter, the Attorney General proposed keeping juries for matters that “engage community values and person’s character, such as defamation false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.”

The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) also supports a temporary jury trial suspension. In an open letter to the Attorney General’s office, it stated that “the biggest hurdle for many of the postponed and upcoming trials will be constituting juries.”

Steve Rastin, a former president of the OTLA, spoke glowingly of Downey’s letter to Canadian Lawyer.

“I think it’s bold, I think it’s appropriate,” he said. “I think what the attorney general is doing is giving some thought to how are we going to deal with the massive backlog that’s in the system right now.”

“The attorney general is showing inspired leadership. What he’s doing is looking at a fundamental change in our system to help maybe put Ontario back together and back on track in terms of access to justice.”

Rastin’s enthusiasm isn’t shared by all. The Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA) stated in a submission to the Attorney General that jury trials are essential in Ontario due to the province’s unique social makeup.

“Against this social backdrop, civil juries provide a vast array of life experiences including different socioeconomic, racial, cultural and gender-based perspectives,” wrote TLA President Brett Harrison.

There is also concern that eliminating jury trials is an inappropriate solution to an issue that could be solved through modernization and investment. As one Toronto personal injury lawyer asked CTV News: “People keep talking about how it’s too slow and it’s an access to justice issue, but what about devoting the resources they should have done in the first place?”

“There should have been more resources thrown at the judicial system well before this, and I think it’s just convenient now to use the pandemic as an excuse to eliminate or get rid of juries,” they continued.  

Even Steve Rastin agrees that Ontario’s court system is falling behind on implementing new technology.

“[What] we’ve realized is that our jurisdiction has not gone nearly as far down the road to modernization as some other jurisdictions in the world,” he said. “In the United States, they’re doing virtual motions, virtual trials, virtual appeals, they have widespread access to court records electronically and things like that.”

The province has several options to address its growing trial backlog. It can eliminate civil jury trials altogether, it can reduce or suspend jury trials, it can bring in new technology to allow trials to proceed remotely, or it can choose another path. Regardless of the decision, it must be made quickly: the province’s backlog is growing every day and preventing seriously injured accident victims from accessing the compensation they need.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of personal injury lawyers will assess your case and lay out your options for pursuing a claim. Contact us today to learn more.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Road Safety?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, road safety experts, including personal injury lawyers, attempted to predict how shelter-at-home measures would impact motor vehicle accident rates and driver behaviour. It was assumed, for example, that wide lockdowns would limit the use of personal automobiles, and that that would in turn reduce the number of serious accidents.

Around the time that the pandemic took hold in North America, the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety compiled a list of factors that might affect road safety during and after the lockdowns. Below, we’ll look at a few key predictions and assess their accuracy.

There Will Be Fewer People on the Roads

The Global Alliance was correct in predicting that personal automobile use would decline amid the lockdowns. This effect has been noted around the world.

Unfortunately, the Alliance – and many personal injury lawyers – also guessed that fewer journeys would lead to fewer crashes. New data suggest this has not been the case. In the United States, a report from the National Safety Council (NSC) showed a 14 per cent year-over-year increase in fatality rates per distance driven in March. While overall traffic deaths – a figure that includes fatalities among drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists – were down 8 per cent, the overall number of miles driven was down 18 per cent, meaning road users are actually more likely to be killed than during the same period last year.

The numbers are equally discouraging in Ontario, where the OPP reported 71 deaths on patrolled roads as of May 4, up from 61 deaths during the same period in 2019. In both the United States and Ontario, speed appears to be a key factor.

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said NSC President Lorraine M Martin, according to the BBC. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely.”

“If we don’t do it for ourselves,” she added, “we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Of the 71 deaths in Ontario, 17 were linked to speeding.

“We aren’t invincible,” said Lewis Smith, Canada Safety Council’s coordinator of communications, to Global News. “Speed may seem like a good idea because the roads are open, and you think you’re not putting anyone at risk, but the truth is risk can come in a hurry. Speed incenses the likelihood of something happening you don’t have time to react too.”

Even before it became apparent that lighter traffic would not lead to fewer deaths, safety experts were concerned about cars eventually returning to the roads.

“Some radio programs and news reels are showing empty streets and realizing that it’s true that there are no road crashes because of this, but what will happen when we all go out again?” asked Viviam Perrone of Argentina’s Asociación Civil Madres del Dolor in a Global Alliance article. “… we should learn to live with our foot off the accelerator when we return to the streets.”

Fewer People Will Use Public Transit

It was expected at the onset of the pandemic that mass transit ridership would plummet – this has played out as expected. It is unlikely that riders will return to public transit in the near future.

From a road safety perspective, this is a problem. Traveling via mass transit is in general much safer than travelling in a personal automobile. If fewer people choose to take mass transit in the near future, that will mean more automobiles on the road and, in all likelihood, more accidents.

If cities want to avoid a major spike in traffic accidents as their lockdowns are lifted, they must encourage commuters to travel on foot or by bicycle as much as possible. They must also develop strategies for effectively sanitizing public transit vehicles and restoring public trust.

Road Safety Strategies Will be Put on Hold

The City of Toronto is already familiar with the challenges of implementing a comprehensive road safety strategy; even before the pandemic, it struggled to make progress with its Vision Zero approach. As public resources are reallocated to deal with COVID-19, personal injury lawyers fear that road safety measures will tumble down the list of priorities. There is also concern that public messaging and awareness campaigns around road safety will be drowned out by the deserved focus on the virus.

“In general, it would seem that most of the public will be distracted, from road safety messages and that perhaps some of what we road safety advocates might usually be doing might need to wait until COVID comes under control,” said University of Washington Global Health professor Carlie Mock in the Global Alliance article.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a traffic accident amid COVID-19, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of personal injury lawyers is continuing to accept new clients throughout the lockdown. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with any questions or concerns.

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People with Disabilities, Including Spinal and Brain Injury Victims, are at Elevated Risk from COVID-19

Everyone has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, but the most serious impacts have been felt by marginalized and at-risk populations: the elderly, homeless people, people with pre-existing medical conditions, people with addictions, racial and social minorities, and survivors of serious injuries. Among personal injury lawyers, there is significant concern that current and former clients do not have access to the necessary supports. Long-term care facilities, which sometimes house brain and spinal injury survivors, are hotbeds for the virus, and injury victims living at home may find themselves suddenly isolated.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the unique challenges faced by survivors of serious injuries amid this unprecedented global health emergency.

Long-Term Care Fears

Canada has been relatively effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. Long-term care homes have been less successful: roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in these facilities.

The situation is so bleak that family members are removing loved ones, even when the chances of readmission are slim. Unfortunately, this approach highlights another concern for personal injury lawyers: how will injury survivors living at home access medical care under social distancing guidelines? Speaking to CTV News Toronto, an Ontario woman who removed her husband from long-term care articulated the issue:

“My concerns are – he no longer has a doctor,” said Barbara Heuman. “His doctor took care of him for three-and-a-half years while he was at Dufferin Oaks, but I was told they are no longer able to care of him. So when they sent me home from Dufferin Oaks yesterday, I got one week’s medication, that’s it.”

Lack of Access to Medical Care

For many seriously injured accident victims, recovery is a lifelong pursuit that requires consistent medical care and attention. Spinal and brain injury victims often undergo years of rehabilitation, chiropractic therapy, and physiotherapy, often in clinical settings.

Access to these services may be limited for months or years. Medical professionals in Canada are all-hands-on-deck in the fight against COVID-19 – those who are unable to help on the front lines are avoiding hospitals and emergency wards as much as possible. For injury victims, a sudden and indefinite pause in treatment can be damaging to the recovery process.

Brain injury survivors may also lose access to social services such as occupational therapy and attendant care.

Mental Health Concerns

In a March 31 article for the Prince George Citizen, Diane Nakamura, a brain injury survivor, described some of the day-to-day symptoms that many survivors experience.

“Suffering from anxiety and depression,” she wrote. “Not having enough energy in a day to complete necessary tasks. Inability to cook because of poor memory and sequencing issues. Dealing with financial stress because of lost employment. Not understanding important letters or phone calls due to cognitive deficits. Experiencing conflict with family members and friends who don’t understand the limitations survivors have. Possessing low self-esteem and confidence because of the significant life changes after brain injury. Not feeling normal or accepted by their personal network and the community.”

Many of these issues, Nakamura wrote, have been aggravated by the strict social distancing measures necessary to limit the virus’s spread. Brain injury survivors have less access to mental health resources than they did at the beginning of the year, and fewer opportunities to connect with friends and family in-person.

Lack of Financial or Government Support

Some injury victims coping with this new reality feel left behind. Activists say governments have failed to consider injury survivors in their COVID-19 responses. The little support that has been offered is considered woefully insufficient.

“As families who are supporting our sons and daughters with disabilities, who live with us in the community – we feel forgotten. We’re not even on the radar,” said Robin Acton, whose daughter has Down syndrome, to CBC News Edmonton in April.

“We as a family are incredibly fearful of what happens if our daughter gets sick and has to go to the hospital,” she added. “She’s going to need me or her dad there to help her understand and interpret what’s going on. She would be absolutely terrified.”

In Ontario, the provincial government has made additional resources available to people with disability through the Ontario Disability Support Program. However, community representatives say the additional benefits – up to $100 for individuals and up to $200 for families – are simply not enough.

“We are part of a community that is often just an afterthought,” said Nadine Law, co-founder of Sudbury not-for-profit Access2all, to Sudbury.com. “My clients and I are not being recognized or taken care of. It wasn’t until this pandemic that I realized my voice had to get a little bit louder.”

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Crises tend to highlight the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As personal injury lawyers dealing with seriously injured accident victims, Will Davidson LLP is committed to providing legal support for some of Ontario’s most vulnerable populations. If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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COVID-19 and Nursing Home Negligence

Long-term care facilities are ground zero in the fight against COVID-19 in Canada. Unfortunately, some facilities are losing the battle. As of mid-April, nearly half of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care residences. That figure has caused concern among healthcare experts, patients’ rights advocates, and nursing home negligence lawyers.

In Quebec, where more than 30 seniors perished between mid-March and mid-April in a facility near Montreal, Premier Francois Legault said the deaths may have been caused by “gross negligence.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented, saying: “We recognize the terrible and tragic stories that have come out of seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities across the country. We know we need to do more.”

The first serious outbreak occurred at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver in March. Seventy-eight COVID-19 cases were confirmed, and 20 people died. At least 21 people have died in a residence in Laval, Quebec. And in Ontario, 29 people have died at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, 33 have died at Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, and 23 have died at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said: “These heart-breaking events underscored the need for stringent infection prevention and control measures and led to the development of infection prevention and control guidance for long-term care homes.”

The provincial governments in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia have taken over operation of certain homes. Ontario hasn’t gone that far, despite pleas from the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more 60,000 frontline healthcare workers. The union has criticized several facilities in Ontario where severe outbreaks have taken hold.

“They did not put into action what needed to be done,” said president Sharleen Stewart, according to the CBC. “This was pure negligence.”

In other words, despite the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 in Canada, and despite the fact that seniors are particularly susceptible to the disease, it is believed that certain COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes could have been avoided. Liability may extend beyond the facilities’ employees.

In Quebec, where nursing home negligence lawyers are already considering at least one class action claim, a medical malpractice lawyer told Global News that “it seems there has been serious neglect on the part of the residence, but also on the part of the CIUSSS, who was supposed to support the residence.”

In other words, these deaths may have been avoided but for the structural, systemic issues within Canada’s long-term care systems, many of which are underfunded and understaffed. The federal and provincial governments have issued a variety of new guidelines since March – new cleaning procedures, mandatory medical screenings, mealtime social distancing, etc. – but critics say they are too little, too late.

“This wasn’t just foreseeable, it was foreseen,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of seniors’ advocacy organization CanAge, to the CBC. “We saw it coming it Italy. We saw it coming in Spain, let alone what was happening in Asia. And we knew that people in long-term care facilities would be left without the care they need.”

“This is not new,” added Toronto geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall, a fellow at the Women’s College Research Institute. “It’s just taken a global pandemic to unearth the problems that affect almost every aspect of the sector.”

Some industry veterans are finding reasons for optimism amid the catastrophe.

“I think there will be change out of it because it is hitting so many people right across the province as well as the country,” said Tom Carrothers, a long-time volunteer with Family Council Network 4 Advocacy, also to the CBC. “I can guarantee you that groups like ours will be sure to keep it moving.”

However, there will be many more months of pain and distress before progress is made. On April 20, the Province of Ontario released new modelling suggesting the spread of COVID-19 had peaked in the general population but was continuing to accelerate in long-term care facilities. As healthcare workers fight to bring the disease under control, nursing home negligence lawyers will consider whether legal action is appropriate. Will Davidson LLP is currently investigating COVID-19-related deaths at Lundy Manor Retirement Residence in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Learn more about that case here: https://www.willdavidson.ca/lundy-manor-covid-19/.

If a member of your family has been injured or become ill as a result of negligence at a long-term care facility, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers will review your case and explain your legal options.

Will Davidson LLP’s lawyers remain hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are we working diligently to advance existing claims, but we are also accepting new clients who have been injured during these unprecedented times. If you’ve been injured in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is proud to offer services on a contingency basis, meaning we won’t be paid until your case has been successfully resolved. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

Is Canada Falling Behind on Road Safety?

Serious car accidents continue to occur in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), despite restrictive physical distancing measures in place to arrest the spread of COVID-19. On March 30, one person was killed in a single vehicle accident at Toronto’s Exhibition Place; on April 3, another fatality occurred in a three-car crash near Islington and Steeles Avenues; and on April 4, a cyclist was struck and injured in the city’s Rexdale neighbourhood. For car accident lawyers, these events are a reminder that road safety reforms are urgently needed in Ontario, and that injury victims will continue to require legal assistance, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 came to dominate headlines around the world (rightfully so), road safety issues were a major concern in several Canadian jurisdictions. Forty-two pedestrians were killed on the streets of Toronto in 2019, the same number as the previous year and the most since 50 people were killed in 2002. Fifteen motorists, six motorcyclists, and a cyclist were also killed.

In Ottawa, the deaths of three cyclists in 2019 attracted significant media attention and added urgency to the city’s new road safety plan. The picture is even grimmer in several remote and rural communities: drivers in Northern Ontario are nearly twice as likely to be killed in an accident as their neighbours in the south. In Yukon, the 2017 traffic fatality rate was 18.2 per 100,000, more than three times the then national rate of 5.0 per 100,000.

The news isn’t all bad, of course. Fatal traffic accidents have slowly declined over the past decades in Canada, as have rates of drunk driving. But road safety experts, including car accident lawyers, are concerned that the country is falling behind.

In 2019, the City of Oslo, Norway’s capital, recorded zero traffic deaths. It reached this milestone by enacting a series of sweeping infrastructure and policy changes, including reducing speed limits and improving demarcation between cycling and driving lanes. The policies are largely in line with Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy, which aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries by making safety central to infrastructure and transportation decisions.

Vision Zero has been adopted, often to great effect, by cities around the world, including some much closer to home, such as New York. In Canada, Vision Zero was first adopted by Edmonton, in 2015, and later by Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Hamilton, among others. Halifax and Ottawa have road safety strategies that embrace parts of Vision Zero without explicitly targeting zero deaths.

Unfortunately, many Canadian cities have struggled to reduce traffic deaths, and have particularly struggled to protect vulnerable road users. Critics believe a paradigm shift is necessary for these goals to be accomplished: decision makers must prioritize safety over efficiency and convenience.

In an expansive article for the Ottawa Citizen, Elizabeth Payne, the recipient of a traffic safety fellowship with the International Centre for Journalists, spoke with Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney about the city’s road safety shortcomings. While McKenney supports the many of the measures included in the city’s new road safety strategy, she believes it is inherently flawed by its failure to target zero deaths.

“The plan is a better plan than we have ever had in this city,” McKenney said. “But the key piece missing is Vision Zero. Without that, we are accepting that road deaths are normalized, that they’re OK. Without establishing a goal of zero, it means that we don’t acknowledge that every single death on our roadway is preventable. And every single death is preventable.”

As car accident lawyers, our team encounters seriously injured accident victims on a daily or weekly basis. We are acutely aware of the devastating, lifelong impacts that a serious motor vehicle accident injury can have. For us, the central tenets of the Vision Zero strategy – lower speed limits, improved safety infrastructure, respect for all road users – are common sense. But for people who have never been affected by a serious motor vehicle accident, these measures can appear costly, inefficient, and unwarranted. As a result, road safety improvements are often pushed to the political backburner, which leads to frustration among advocates.

“One of the things that frustrates me is that it doesn’t get the priority it needs,” road safety expert Neil Arason told Payne. “Every year, a couple of thousand people are killed on our roads and 10,000 to 15,000 people are seriously injured. We just accept it.”

“It’s not hard to see these traffic deaths are easily preventable. That is what is so frustrating,” added Graham Larkin, executive director of Vision Zero Canada. “Is [Vision Zero] doable in Canada? Yes, it is doable anywhere. The same principles apply. You often hear excuses made. We build excuses like the Dutch build infrastructure. They will just go ahead and fix things whereas we will tend too often to say, ‘Well, you know it can’t happen here.’”

There is no telling how long the COVID-19 pandemic will linger in Canada. Restrictions on movements could be eased as early as late spring, or could last into 2021. During this time, it is essential that Canadian road safety activists and their political allies continue to emphasize the importance of their mission. Fatal and serious traffic accidents continue to occur every day, even amid this largescale lockdown. The people injured in those accidents are as important today as they were before the pandemic.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in an accident, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team is accepting new clients during the COVID-19 lockdown and would be happy to discuss your case.

When are Hosts Responsible for Guests’ Injuries?

A personal injury lawsuit in British Columbia’s Supreme Court could inform Canada’s evolving social host liability rules. The case, in which Calder McCormick is seeking damages for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident following a 2012 house party, went to trial in mid-February. Personal injury lawyers are eagerly anticipating the decision.

What is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability applies when the host of a social gathering owes a duty of care to an injury victim. It is generally considered in cases involving alcohol.

Determining social host liability requires answering numerous questions. If, for example, a host provides alcohol to his or her guests and one of those guests becomes impaired, is the host responsible for the safety of that guest when they leave the premises? Is the host responsible for the safety of people the guest might come in contact with? Does liability still exist if the guest consumes his or her own alcohol? How does the equation change when the guest is underage?

Relevant Cases

Some of these questions have been answered in resolved cases that personal injury lawyers are well aware of, including Childs v Desormeaux and Wardak v Froom.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2006 ruling in Childs v Desormeaux informs much of what is known about social host liability. In that case, the plaintiff, Childs, was injured in a drunk driving accident caused by the defendant, who had recently left a private New Year’s celebration. The courts were asked to determine whether the hosts of the celebration were liable or partly liable for Childs’ injuries.

All three courts found that the hosts were not liable as they had not served alcohol to Desormeaux (the event was BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze) and had monitored his drinking to the same extent as other guests. The hosts also asked Desormeaux whether he was alright before he left and did not realize the extent of his inebriation. In other words, the hosts were not reasonably able to foresee that Desormeaux would cause an accident resulting in injuries to himself or others. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that the proximity between the hosts and the plaintiff was insufficient.

“Hosting a party at which alcohol is served does not, without more, establish the degree of proximity required to give rise to a duty of care on the hosts to third party highway users who may be injured by an intoxicated guest,” the ruling reads.

In Wardak v Froom, a case from 2017, Ontario Superior Court Justice Wendy Matheson interpreted “without more” to mean that a duty of care could arise. In that case, the plaintiff, Dean Wardak, suffered catastrophic injuries in a single-car accident after attending the 19th birthday party of his neighbour, Graeme Froom. Froom’s parents hosted the gathering. They did not serve alcohol but understood that guests were drinking. During the evening, Wardak became intoxicated, left the Frooms’ residence, walked home, got into his car, and drove into a fire hydrant. Evidence suggests the hosts knew Wardak was intoxicated when he left. He is now quadriplegic.

Justice Matheson ruled in the plaintiff’s favour. Although she did not find that Wardak’s injuries were reasonably foreseeable, she determined that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant was one of paternalistic supervision. The fact that the plaintiff was underage and showed signs of intoxication also played into the decision, as did the fact that he was an invited guest, unlike the plaintiff in Childs v Desormeaux

The Case in British Columbia

The case in British Columbia also involves underage drinking at a supervised party. In September 2012, young people, including 18-year-old Ryan Plambeck and 17-year-old Calder McCormick, gathered at the home of Stephen and Lidia Pearson on Salt Spring Island. The couple were parents to teenage children.

After spending time at the party, the boys ventured across the street to a neighbour’s lot. There, they found an unlocked, uninsured for-sale automobile with the keys inside. They took the car. Plambeck drove with McCormick in the passenger seat. Before long, they lost control of the car and crashed off the road. Plambeck died and McCormick suffered catastrophic, life-changing injuries, including a severe traumatic brain injury.

In 2014, McCormick filed a lawsuit against the Pearsons and several other parties. The lawsuit alleged that the Pearsons breached their duty of care to their underage guests by allowing them to drink on their property and failing to stop them from leaving while impaired.

“Basically, [they] did nothing to stop him from ending up on the road,” one of McCormick’s personal injury lawyers told CBC News British Columbia.

The Pearsons have denied all allegations. However, the case against them appears to resemble Wardak v Froom more than Childs v Desormeaux, in that it involves an underage plaintiff who consumed alcohol on their premises. The BC Supreme Court’s decision could influence how and when hosts invite guests – particularly underage guests – to consume alcohol on their property.

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced Oakville personal injury lawyers. Our team has expertise in a wide variety of personal injury claims, including matters involving social host liability. Reach out today to learn more.

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