'We are dealing with a very vulnerable group': Decision on $17M hospital settlement still pending
Two fathers of men who were allegedly abused and mistreated at a psychiatric rehabilitation centre in Campbellton, N.B. had their voices heard in a Moncton courtroom Monday.
A proposed $17 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton was reached in July, but the agreement has yet to be approved by the courts.
The class action lawsuit is against the Province of New Brunswick and the Vitalité Health Network, stating alleged abuse, mistreatment and neglect at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.
New Brunswick Chief Justice Tracey DeWare told a court room at the Moncton Law Courts Monday morning that she wanted to give it a "sober second thought" and committed to having a decision by Oct. 26.
"We are dealing with a very vulnerable group of people," said DeWare.
The plaintiffs and litigation guardians in the case, Darrell Tidd and Reid Smith, say their sons spent years at the psychiatric facility, but are no longer there.
Both men made brief statements during the hearing, thanking DeWare for her resolution.
"Some of the complaints filed in the (class) action had horrific content, and although it would be difficult to correct any potential wrong-doings, it does help to put these allegations to rest once and for all regardless of the judicial decision outcome on who was right or wrong," said Smith.
After the hearing, Smith, Tidd and their legal counsel James Sayce spoke with reporters outside the courthouse.
Sayce said he's optimistic the settlement will eventually be approved because it's very fair.
"That's very normal in these circumstances for a court to reserve its decision. It's a complicated settlement and the chief justice clearly wants to get it right," said Sayce.
Tidd said his son is now at Shepody Healing Centre in Dorchester, N.B., and is functioning as well as he can where he's at.
"We didn't do this just on behalf of our sons as litigation guardians. We did it on behalf of all those out there that have no voice, no avenue to seek justice. So we did it on their behalf as well," said Tidd. "We think this settlement is in best the interest of all class members."
Tidd said the whole legal process, which has been around five years, has been stressful at times, especially for his son when he was still at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.
"It's stressful, but it's well worth it. Without doing this there's really no avenue to seek justice for all the class members for the alleged allegations," said Tidd.
Tidd and Smith hope their actions will help change how vulnerable people in society are treated.
"Regardless of the settlement, at this point we just hope that the work will continue with (the) mental health, vulnerable people sector and that it continues to get better," said Smith.
Sayce said there are a group of 2,500 class members who can make a claim.
Class members meet the following definitions:
- All persons admitted to or resided at the Restigouche Health Centre between May 24, 2004 and Oct. 1, 2021 and who were alive as of May 24, 2017.
- All persons who were admitted or who resided at the health centre between Jan. 1, 1954 and Oct. 1 2021 who were alive as of May 24, 2017 and make a claim they were sexually assaulted at the facility.
There was one objector to the proposed settlement present at Monday's hearing who also spoke in court.
Denis Frenette was briefly a patient at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in the early 1990s, but does not meet the definitions of the class action lawsuit.
He read a lengthy statement in French with an interpreter present.
"They want to revoke my right to access to justice for the simple reason that I resided there prior to May 24, 2004," said Frenette through his interpreter. "The trauma that I was subjected to prior to that date remains as traumas and will not go away on their own."
Frenette said not being eligible for compensation was a "denial of justice."
Sayce spoke directly to Frenette during the hearing and told him he might still be eligible for compensation.
He advised Frenette to contact his law firm.
After the hearing, Sayce said any settlement of this sort will have objectors.
"The fact that only one objector attended and voiced their concerns suggests it's a fair and reasonable settlement," said Sayce.
Sayce said it should take a little over one year after the court issues its order before financial compensation is handed out.
The lawsuit originally sought $500 million in total damages on behalf of the former residents of the health centre.
For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.
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