The Province: Successful lawsuits will spark change

Originally published in The Province by Sean Sullivan, 26th September 2011.

Wrongful Deaths: Group rallies for right to sue

When the Cadillac Eldorado smashed through the crowd of teens at the bush party, Heidi Klompas was hit head-on, her body flipping up onto the hood, rolling across the car and landing with a thump in the wet mud.

Beside her lay another 17-year-old girl, dead.

After that terrible accident in Stokes Pit on Sept. 13, 1997, Heidi entered the hospital with nothing more than two badly broken shine bones.

But three weeks and many complications later, she was dead.

Fourteen years on, Catherine Adamson is still haunted by her daughter’s death, which she says was ultimately at the hands of doctors and nurses, not the drunken teenage driver.

Adamson was one of dozens of people who gathered on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday to rally for a change to B.C.’s Family Compensation Act.

Because Heidi earned no income and did not provide for dependents, her mother had no way to sue for a possible wrongful death, and no way to legally determine who or what is to blame for Heidi’s death.

Investigations by the coroner’s office and the children’s commission (the latter of which was abolished in 2002 by the B.C. Liberals) found Heidi died of medical errors.

But when Adamson asked her lawyer about the next steps after Heidi’s death, she was told there were none.

“My lawyer told me the cost of taking two hospitals and a handful of doctors to court to prove wrongdoing would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, while the Family Compensation Act would give us maybe $20,000 for the death of a child,” she said.

Most people can’t afford that kind of court case just to prove a point, she said.

“A successful lawsuit is proof that they did something wrong,” Adamson said. “Without an admission of guilt, there will be no changes in how doctors and hospitals do things.”

Legislation drafted by advocates has been sent to a number of MLAs, though none have yet declared their support.

Adamson chose to fight for change through a self-published, meticulously researched book, Heidi Dawn Klompas: Missed Opportunities, which chronicles Heidi’s death and its aftermath.

“Heidi was a big advocate of telling the truth and being fair,” Adamson said. “This law is really unfair, so I wrote the book investigating it to tell people what really happened, because we never had our day in court.”

(Click PDF to enlarge original article)



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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