A proposed class-action lawsuit against long-term care homes that experienced COVID-19 outbreaks is too broad and doesn’t distinguish between the most affected facilities and those that had few infections, a lawyer for Quebec’s health authorities argued Thursday.
Jonathan Desjardins-Mallette said the application for a class action against the provincial government should not be authorized because the proposed group includes too many people who don’t have grounds to sue.
The proposed suit, Desjardins-Mallette said, makes frequent reference to major COVID-19 outbreaks in specific long-term care centres, and asks the court to infer that the problems in those facilities were applicable across the network — regardless of the severity of the outbreak.
“There’s no systemic character here,” he told Quebec Superior Court Justice Donald Bisson. “On the contrary, each long-term care centre, each establishment, experienced a unique situation.”
The lawyer seeking permission to bring the suit argued earlier this week that Quebec’s failure to plan for the arrival of the novel coronavirus as it began circulating in other parts of the world led to preventable deaths during the first to waves of COVID-19.
If it’s approved, Patrick Martin-Ménard said the lawsuit would also include family members of residents who died during those outbreaks, and that it could include tens of thousands of people seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
More than 5,000 people died in Quebec’s long-term care centres during the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The case’s lead plaintiff is Jean-Pierre Daubois. His 94-year-old mother, Anna Jose Maquet, died in April 2020 at the Ste-Dorothée long-term care centre, in Laval, Que., during an outbreak that infected more than 200 residents. The centre experienced massive staff shortages during that period, during which 101 residents died.
Desjardins-Mallette argued that the Ste-Dorothée outbreak wasn’t representative of what happened across the province, describing it as a major crisis and adding that the experience of residents there could not be extrapolated to other facilities that experienced outbreaks consisting of as few as two cases.
He also took issue with a proposed time period covered in the class action — between March 2020 and March 2021. Some long-term care centres, such as the Centre d’hébergement De Chauffailles, in Quebec’s Bas St-Laurent region, had zero COVID-19 cases in the first wave and two in the second.
“It’s difficult to do better,” Desjardins-Mallette said of the way the pandemic was handled in that care home. There is no evidence presented in the class-action application that suggests a fault was committed against the two residents who caught the virus in the second wave, he said.
Like all class actions, the suit must be authorized by a judge before it is allowed to move forward.
Lawyers for Quebec’s attorney general are scheduled to argue against authorizing the case on Friday.