B.C. judge partially certifies class-action lawsuit against health authority over ‘fake nurse’

Click to play video: 'B.C. judge certifies class action lawsuit over ‘fake nurse’'
B.C. judge certifies class action lawsuit over ‘fake nurse’
WATCH: A class-action lawsuit over a woman who faked being a nurse at B.C. Women's Hospital for over a year is moving ahead. – Jul 26, 2023

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has partially certified a class-action suit against a provincial health authority over the actions of a notorious “fake nurse.”

Brigitte Cleroux, who does not have a nursing degree, worked at the B.C. Women’s Hospital between June 1, 2020, and June 23, 2021, when she was fired over her false credentials. According to the ruling posted Wednesday, her work involved about 1,150 patients. Previous filings indicate she directly gave care to 899 patients in her time at the hospital.

Among those patients was Miranda Massie, who launched the proposed class action suit against the Provincial Health Services Authority, which operates the hospital, alleging negligence and liability for battery and breach of privacy. Massie’s proposed class action also included evidence from five other patients, whose names have been protected.

Click to play video: '‘Fake’ B.C. nurse used fraudulent cheque as ID, court documents allege'
‘Fake’ B.C. nurse used fraudulent cheque as ID, court documents allege

In his decision, Justice K. Michael Stephens found that because Cleroux interacted with so many patients in different capacities, resulting in widely different experiences, claims of negligence and battery would be better argued as individual legal actions rather than as a class.

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However, he ruled that the class action can proceed on the claims of breach of privacy, vicarious liability and the request for punitive damages.

“The evidence before me suggests that Ms. Cleroux, who was unlicensed nurse, nevertheless was permitted by the PHSA to work in a nursing role with patients in a private medical setting, reviewed medical records, and in a nursing role had physical contact with and personally observed putative class members in a clinical setting during their hospital stay for gynecological procedures,” Stephens ruled.

“In my view, the issue is how Ms. Cleroux came to be hired by the PHSA as a nurse at the BCWH, and was permitted to do what she did at the hospital, was sufficiently reprehensible or highhanded to attract a punitive damages award.”

The certification decision does not rule on the merits of the case, the facts of which have yet to be proven at trial.

Click to play video: 'Woman who posed as fake nurse faces new charges in Vancouver'
Woman who posed as fake nurse faces new charges in Vancouver

PHSA told the court that Cleroux, who worked under the false name Melanie Smith, claimed to be a trained procedural sedation nurse, and worked as a general duty nurse performing patient admission, taking vital signs, observing patient symptoms and breathing, administering intravenous medication, and participating in the discharge process pre-operation section in the gynecological services program.

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Massie claims she was treated by Cleroux in January 2021 related to a gynecological surgery, and learned Cleroux was an unlicensed nurse in a letter from PHSA in November that year.

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“The plaintiff complains that Ms. Cleroux was present and made observations of her in a very private medical procedure and had access to her medical records and medical information,” the suit claims.

The suit cites other alleged experiences with Cleroux from other proposed class members, including receiving medication administered in a painful way, having blood taken in an uncomfortable manner, receiving sedation and fentanyl, and discussing private medical information.

Click to play video: 'Court filing says fake nurse worked for months at B.C. hospital despite several complaints'
Court filing says fake nurse worked for months at B.C. hospital despite several complaints
In its response to the civil claim, PHSA argued it should not be liable for “Cleroux’s fraud,” which it said was “abhorrent, [and] unauthorized.”

The health authority argued it “has not in any way tried and is not trying now to evade or avoid responsibility,” but that certification of a class action was not appropriate due to the circumstances of the case.

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PHSA said it would not comment on the ruling, as the matter remains before the courts.

Fake nurse

Filings submitted in court as a part of the suit last fall revealed more disturbing details of Cleroux’s employment with the hospital.

Those claims allege administrators at B.C. Women’s Hospital never sought government ID when they hired Cleroux. Instead, they allege the employer accepted a photocopy of a personal cheque from Cleroux, on which she had whited out her name at the top and written in the name “Melanie Smith.”

The suit further claims the hospital did not vet Cleroux’s references, which were made up of phone numbers and GMail addresses, but included no professional or business information.

The lawsuit claims Cleroux was hired by fraudulently using the name of a real nurse who was employed at Vancouver General Hospital, but was on maternity leave, and that PHSA did not contact VGH for information.

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Click to play video: '‘Fake nurse’ investigation could lead to further charges'
‘Fake nurse’ investigation could lead to further charges

It claims PHSA further failed to confirm Cleroux’s credentials with the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives, and didn’t look into a discrepancy when the nursing registration number she provided returned a different name in the college’s database.

In a response to the civil claim filed in June 2022, the health authority denied that it knew or should have known Cleroux was not legally qualified to work as a nurse, and said she had a string of other false identities which fooled agencies in Ontario and Alberta as well.

“Cleroux deliberately defrauded and deceived PHSA in order to gain employment,” it stated, adding her claim that her nursing registration number wasn’t immediately available because she had moved from Ontario wasn’t unusual, and that it had verified a nurse named Melanie Smith was licensed in B.C.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

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Cleroux, who originally hails from Gatineau, Que., was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2022 after pleading guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, impersonation and using forged documents over a similar scheme in Ottawa.

She still faces 17 criminal charges in B.C. related to her activities in Vancouver.

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