Wrongful Death Law Reform Group

October 24, 2008

Mother Still Calling for Justice 11 Years after Her Daughter was Killed

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Wrongful Death Act Needed Now for Families in British Columbia

(Vancouver) – Family members of innocent victims of wrongful death continue to suffer due to British Columbia’s lack of a Wrongful Death Act, a reality that is particularly painful today for Catherine Adamson, whose daughter Heidi died in hospital 11 years ago after being struck by an impaired driver’s vehicle, weeks earlier.

The tragedy of Heidi’s death is multi-layered. The devastating details began with the horribly reckless actions of a teenaged driver on September 13, 1997 (the incident occurred at Stokes Pit, along the Surrey-Langley border), and continued for more than three weeks as Heidi was hospitalized and subjected to various surgeries. Many of the medical decisions and subsequent actions have been called into question, both before and after October 8, 1997, the day 17-year-old Heidi Klompas died.

“There is no compensation allowable for the pain and suffering of parents when they lose a child,” Catherine Adamson wrote in Heidi Dawn Klompas: Missed Opportunities, a book she published three years ago in her daughter’s honour. The book is a well-written but horribly painful chronicle of Heidi’s death. As Catherine explains in the book, she hopes the details of Heidi’s death will lead to meaningful changes with regard to medical treatment, legislation and legal rights.

At present, a large and growing alliance of groups is calling for a Wrongful Death Act to be implemented in this province. Catherine, a former school trustee from Langley, got involved with one such group a few years ago. It is made up of family members who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one through wrongful acts and circumstances. They were organized in the summer of 2005 as the Wrongful Death Law Reform Group (WDLRG). Three other groups are on board with them, co-leading a call for change- specifically, they are calling for a Wrongful Death Act to replace BC’s terribly inadequate Family Compensation Act.

The other groups working in partnership with the WDLRG are the Coalition Against No-Fault, the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and the Trial Lawyers Association of BC. To date, 96 organizations have signed on in support of this initiative.

“The law definitely needs to be changed,” says Surrey resident and WDLRG member Beatrice Pereira, whose mother died two years ago after a fatal act of medical negligence. “You can’t imagine how much more pain is caused for grieving family members when they find out that BC’s current legislation fails to provide them with help and, instead, leaves them hopeless.”

The personal tragedies suffered by Catherine, Beatrice and their families are two of the accounts contained within an anthology entitled in their name – the call for a wrongful death act in BC, a publication produced by the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. The present lack of proper law is particularly hard on people with disabilities, seniors and other citizens who are often not able to rely on a regular wage-earning income. Funding to produce the publication was obtained through a grant from the Law Foundation of British Columbia. The anthology can be accessed from the following two websites: http://www.bccpd.bc.ca and http://www.canf.bc.ca.

Burnaby-based lawyer Don Renaud voluntarily devotes his time to the cause of the WDLRG members and the supporting organizations. As he explains it, “the state of things is tragic and it has been this way for far too long. For wrongdoers – the people who cause fatal incidents to occur – it is far cheaper to kill than to injure. We need a Wrongful Death Act that will end this dreadful situation. Too many families have been let down and further anguished by BC’s lack of fair and effective legislative.”

Until new law is put in place, the legislation in BC govering wrongful death will remain modelled after the archaic Lord Campbell’s Act of 1846, legislation that utterly fails to recognize or appreciate loss beyond its direct financial impact. The consequence of this failure has barred a countless number of families from seeking justice for their losses after the wrongful death of their loved ones. Moreover, nothing has changed througout BC’s history as a province. That is why the groups are calling on the BC Government to right this wrong, to empower innocent families to seek justice after discarding of the Family Compensation Act and bringing in entirely new legislation.

The groups initiated a dialogue with the BC Ministry of Attorney General more than two years ago. Their efforts are ongoing. Representatives of all four groups have met with key representatives from the Attorney General’s Ministry.  In September 2007, the Ministry concluded a consultation process on the topic of reforming British Columbia’s Family Compensation Act. Though the process indicates the government is considering change in this regard, the groups have not been made aware of any timeline or potential developments.

The groups propose that new legislation should include the following provisions:

A. The court, notwithstanding any other damages that may be awarded, may award damages generally to the decedent’s estate and / or survivors for:

1.  solace and bereavement

2. personal anguish

3. emotional stress

4. loss of companionship, comfort, love and affection

5. loss of advice, counsel, guidance, protection and care

6. the decedent’s mental anguish, pain and suffering from the date of injury to death.

B. The court may also award punitive damages to the decedent’s estate for wilful, wanton or reckless conduct shown by a preponderance of evidence.

Go to http://www.catadampublishing.com for more information about Heidi and Catherine.

– END –

CONTACT NOTE:

Adelaide Goldberg, # 604 435-6948, can be reached at the law office of Campbell Renaud in Burnaby. Interviews with Catherine Adamson, Beatrice Pereira and Don Renaud can be scheduled through Ms. Goldberg.

LOCATION NOTE:

Catherine Adamson resides in Vancouver.

Beatrice Pereira works in Vancouver and resides in Surrey.

The law office of Campbell Renaud is located in Burnaby’s Metrotown area.

(Written by Bentley Doyle; October 8, 2008)

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1 Comment »

  1. Our Daughter Laura died tragically in July 2002 from a combination of poor decisions from a Medical Staff, Surgery that went terribly wrong and a Hospital born Super Bug infection that was not properly diagnosed or treated properly.

    This is Laur’a story as it appeared in a BCCPD report, In Their Name: The Call for a Wrongful Death Act in BC:

    On Thursday, June 20, 2002, Laura Jane White was admitted to hospital to confirm a diagnosis of leukemia. She was 15 years old. Laura’s parents, Robert and Rose, and her sister, Christine, rallied around her after this devastating news and prepared as best they could to support her through treatment. They were given information about the recommended chemotherapy treatment by Dr. D. and Dr. B, and the doctors said the cancer was treatable with a success rate of 40-50%. The family was also given a list of possible side effects of the chemotherapy which sounded very unpleasant, but insignificant in the larger picture of saving Laura’s life. It is this list of minor side effects that the Whites believe drastically misled them about the possible dangers to Laura–dangers that eventually led to her death 22 days later.
    Robert and Rose agreed to treatment and Laura started the first round of chemotherapy the same day. Soon after, Laura had surgery to insert a chest catheter for the injection of chemotherapy drugs throughout the phases of treatment. Surgeons told Robert and Rose the surgery went well.
    Over the next week, Laura had many ups and downs from the chemotherapy. Some days, she could not eat and vomited frequently. Other days, she was able to eat a little fruit, visit with friends and family, or watch a World Cup Soccer game Robert had recorded for her. Christine came in most evenings to see her sister and “you could always see a sparkle come into Laura’s eyes when Christine was there,” said Robert. They would talk about an online computer game they played together and about Laura’s dog Ayla.
    Several times, the family asked to see Laura’s regular doctor, Dr. D., but were told he “was not available.” They later learned he was on holiday.
    By June 27, Laura was beginning to have difficulty breathing. She was also developing severe bloating and cramping in her stomach, and her immune system was decimated by the chemotherapy.
    For several days, she continued to have a hard time breathing. An x-ray showed her right lung had collapsed. Robert asked the staff what had caused it and they said the lung was probably slightly punctured when the chest catheter was put in. Laura needed another surgery to insert a chest tube through her ribs to drain fluids and air from the space around her lungs.
    Robert described the next day, July 3, as “the turning point.” The pain Laura was experiencing from the chest tube was unbearable. The doctors started administering morphine without notifying anyone in the family. Morphine is known to have its own severe side effects.
    The family was surprised and alarmed that doctors recommended resuming the chemotherapy. Shouldn’t Laura recover a little from her collapsed lung before continuing? No, the doctors reassured them, all was well and the lung tube would be out in a day or so. The chemotherapy resumed and Laura became weaker, still in a great deal of pain from the tube. However, her lungs did not clear and the tube remained in. Doctors and nurses continued to reassure the family that everything was all right.
    July 10 was a “day of joy” when the Whites learned the leukemia was in remission. Robert and Rose called family members with the wonderful news.
    Meanwhile, doctors ordered an x-ray of Laura’s stomach because the cramping and abdominal pain were worsening.
    The next day, Laura was in even more pain. That evening, she was taken to the intensive care unit (ICU). At 7 a.m. July 12, a staff member told Rose to go to Laura’s room right away. She found doctors working frantically on Laura; she could not breathe. Rose phoned Robert and told him to come to the hospital. When he arrived, doctors were still trying to resuscitate Laura. Finally, a doctor emerged from the room and told Robert and Rose that Laura was in a coma and would probably not survive. Stunned, Robert and Rose went into Laura’s room to be with her. She was on life support.
    Robert said, “At 8:30, Laura was pronounced dead and we were in absolute shock.” It is barely possible to imagine anything worse, but “the ICU staff took Laura off life support–without talking to us,” Robert said. Christine was not at the hospital yet, so the family was not able to “say all our goodbyes together.”
    A few weeks after Laura’s death, Robert talked to the pathologist who said the cause of death was necrotizing enteritis which in turn was caused by a bacteria known as the “ICU superbug.” How Laura became infected is a point of contention: a crucial question that will never be properly answered. Dr. D. told the family the bacteria came from Laura’s stomach–a common bacteria that does not cause problems in someone with a normal immune system. However, Robert’s gastroenterologist said that Dr. D’s explanation was incomplete. In his opinion, the \infection came from the catheter line which doctors at the hospital knew was showing signs of infection.
    “Laura was given broad-based antibiotics, but there was no change in the infection. My doctor said they should have discontinued that antibiotic when they saw it wasn’t working, and given her one that would be more effective against the superbug. Because Laura’s immune system was so weakened, the bacteria flourished.” The doctor also said that a CT scan, done when Laura’s stomach pain started, would have been much more effective than an x-ray to detect the infection.

    About a month after Laura’s death, Robert and Rose spoke to a lawyer about the possibilities of suing the doctors and the hospital. “We just wanted the money to cover any legal costs and anything leftover would go to a foundation. The big thing we wanted was changes around the chemotherapy treatements,” said Robert. “Trying to deal with the hospital on my own was very hard.” The family found that Laura’s death was worth “nothing” according to BC’s Family Compensation Act because she was not a “breadwinner.” “We couldn’t believe it,” Robert said. They phoned two other lawyers and were given the same answer. Robert said if they had been able to receive some financial acknowledgment of Laura’s loss, the family “would have been able to move past this faster.” And, what about Laura being a future breadwinner? “We are elderly parents, and she was the kind of girl who would have helped us out a bit when we get older.”
    The Whites’ lives will never be the same. “We look at life a lot differently,” said Robert. “My health has not been as good. I haven’t been able to work full time since she died.” Robert looked out the window and said, “It was good though, I left my job the October before Laura died, so I could spend more time with her and Christine. I’m glad I did that.” Rose couldn’t work for two months after Laura died.
    The family was left with a debilitating mix of grief, helplessness, anger–and for Rob-ert–guilt. “I felt responsible,” he said. “I was there, Rose left me in charge. I kept agreeing with the doctors, when they said ‘don’t worry, don’t worry.’ They said that so many times. It haunts me now.”
    “The hospital made some minor changes after what happened to Laura,” Robert said. “But we want the side effect literature changed to list the severe ones that can kill your child. I had a lot of concerns about cleanliness at the hospital too. Laura’s immune system was completely gone, she was supposed to be in isolation, but the staff left her door open constantly. They didn’t use masks when they came in.”
    Rose said, “the number one mistake at the hospital was communication. They talked to us on the first day and that’s it. After, they didn’t tell us anything.” She said that government should change the law with “suggestions from people who have gone through this, like us. No one else should have this happen to them.”
    “To me, it’s important that some legacy will be left behind for Laura,” Robert said. “That some wrong will be righted. That will go a long way in saying, ‘Laura this is for you.’ She was always helping others, so maybe she can help others that way.”

    Laura’s website:

    http://angellaura.2ya.com/

    Comment by Robert White — December 16, 2008 @ 4:39 am


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