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B.C. Health Care Lawsuits: 8,000 Launched To Recover Costs

VANCOUVER (CP) - It started with an innocent walk across the street.

George Kripner was hit by a vehicle driven by an alleged drunk driver, setting off a lawsuit which involves neither Kripner, nor the man behind the wheel.

A B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit filed this week is one of almost 300 cases launched every month by the provincial government in order to recover health-care costs of the person injured.

The suits are similar to those filed by provinces against tobacco companies to recover the costs associated with providing health care to smokers. But instead of a massive suit against one company, these suits involve thousands of smaller claims against municipalities, restaurants and bars, insurance firms and individuals.

Since the Health Care Cost Recovery Act took effect April 1, 2009, almost 3,000 cases have been closed, with a cost recovery of $6.2 million for the province.

Another 5,300 cases remain open.

Most of the cases settled up to now are retroactive to the implementation of the legislation, said Michelle Stewart, communications director for the B.C. Ministry of Health.

"As a greater number of cases being settled involve a more recent accident date, we anticipate that recoveries will increase," she said in an email exchange.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada couldn't say immediately if the growing caseload would have an impact on those purchasing insurance protection.

That act obligates lawyers and insurers to notify the government any time a lawsuit is filed where someone was injured and went through B.C.'s health-care system.

The Health Ministry could then join the legal action or launch it's own court case, as it has done in Kripner's case.

Both the Corporation of Delta and the ONE20 Pub and Suburban Grill are named as defendants in the civil court action.

The lawsuit alleges Delta was responsible because it failed to provide adequate lighting and didn't have a marked crosswalk where the accident happened.

Negligence is alleged against the ONE20 Pub for failing to stop the driver from over consumption of alcohol.

The province wants to recover the costs of nursing Kripner through a traumatic brain injury and 16 broken bones.

Greg Vanstone, in-house counsel for the Corporation of Delta, hasn't seen the notice of civil claim yet, but said it would be the first case of its kind to cross his desk.

However he has been expecting to see such a lawsuit since the legislation was enacted.

Vanstone said the act is simply another cost taxpayers would have to bear, not to mention the cost of fighting the claim in court.

"It will add to the damages payable by Delta, if we are found liable and only if, and we vigorously defend all claims made against us," he said.

The act doesn't include those injured in car accidents or in workers compensation claims.

Gregory Thomas, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said it's a good idea for the province to try to hold someone to account in situations where the province has paid for health care.

In fact, Thomas suggested the province should go after gang members convicted in a spate of shootings that sent a jolt of fear through Metro Vancouver from 2007 to 2009.

While many were killed, Thomas said there were also millions worth of injuries while ER department's went into high gear to save people who were shot.

"If you're amassing millions of dollars of illegal profits through criminal activity then absolutely, somebody needs to go after that money because the impact they're having on the health-care system is tremendous," Thomas said.

Stewart said the government does have the power under the legislation to pursue those who committed a crime where health care costs were incurred.

Jim Poyner was the lawyer on a class-action lawsuit involving mechanical heart valves where the provincial government needed to be informed.

While the class settled, Poyner said the provincial government continued its court action against the heart valve designer and manufacturer for financial compensation.

Poyner doesn't see the legislation as negative.

"There are costs that are occasioned by our health system and why that shouldn't be recovered doesn't make any sense to me," he said.

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