Vancouver Sun: Group urges medical malpractice law change

Originally published in Vancouver Sun by Evan Duggan, 26th September 2011.

In B.C., only wage earners or guardians can collect damages in wrongful death lawsuits

Vancouver Sun 26SEP11British Columbia needs to overhaul laws governing awards in medical malpractice cases, the Wrongful Death Law Reform Group urged Sunday.

At present, they say, the laws mean no damages can be awarded in wrongful death cases unless the victim was a wage earner or guardian of dependents.

The group, which includes about 50 families who have lost loved ones due to what they believe is medical malpractice, demonstrated on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday afternoon.

They want the province to repeal the Family Compensation Act, and amend the Estate Administration Act, which together prevent damages from being awarded in wrongful death suits in cases where the victim was not a breadwinner.

The organization wants a Wrongful Death Accountability Act that would extend the ability of family members to sue and win damages for the loss of all loved ones, regardless of age or earning capacity.

About 60 people attended the rally, many wearing matching blue T-shirts with “BC Needs a Wrongful Death Act,” emblazoned across the font.

“Every Life Should Be Valued,” the shirts also read.

Catherine Adamson came to tell the story of her daughter, Heidi Klompas, who died when she was 17 following a series of in-hospital complications.

Klompas suffered two broken legs after a drunk driver plowed through a group of teenagers at Stokes Pit park on the border of Surrey and south Langley on Sept. 13, 1997. During treatment, Klompas fell into a coma after fatty tissue from her severed bone marrow entered her bloodstream, causing brain seizures, Adamson said.

The doctors performed a tracheotomy in the latter stages of the coma because Klompas had started to vocalize, and they wanted to keep her breathing while protecting her vocal cords, Adamson said, clutching a book she wrote about her daughter’s death.

They made the incision too low, which caused infection and heavy bleeding in the trachea and surrounding arteries, she said.

“She downed to death, with her arms tied to bed rails,” Adamson said. “It was really gruesome and horrific.”

Adamson wasn’t able to sue the hospital or its staff for the malpractice damages because Heidi wasn’t a wage earner.

Everybody has the right to sue for malpractice, but B.C.’s legislation prevents awards for damages when a “breadwinner” hasn’t died, said Don Renaud, a Vancouver trial lawyer who has been one of the leaders of the effort to change the legislation.

Renaud said he’s not optimistic that the provincial government will make a priority of changing the legislation.

“In 2007 the attorney-general’s office spent a lot of money studying the issue… but the wheels came off the bus,” he said.

Interest by former attorney-general Mike de Jong in revisiting the matter also failed to result in changes to the act, he added.

The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. helped the families draft a proposed new law, Renaud said, but it has yet to be introduced into the legislature.


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About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Premier of British Columbia, David Eby, is responsible for the modernization of BC’s wrongful death laws. Our Society provided David Eby with the drafted ‘Wrongful Death Accountability Act’ when he was acting as the Attorney General for British Columbia for 6 years between 2017-2022. The new Attorney General, Niki Sharma, also shares responsibility as she is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the current guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Sharma receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, David Eby, who is ultimately responsible for modernization.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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