TORONTO — People who are angry about a proposed bill to protect businesses against COVID-19-related lawsuits should “talk to their lawyer … rather than just read the headlines,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.
“This does not protect the long-term care homes 100 per cent, by any means,” he said. “If there has been gross negligence or negligence, continue suing them. They will be held accountable.”
His government introduced Bill 218 Monday. It shields people who act in “good faith” and without “gross negligence,” from being sued for exposing others to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
More than 1,980 long-term care residents have died with COVID-19 in Ontario.
Families and care home workers allege that some homes let COVID-19-positive residents stay in shared rooms, denied oxygen to infected residents, and allowed staff to go back and forth between homes that had outbreaks and the ones that didn’t.
Ford said his government does not want to protect bad actors, but rather business people, like convenience store owners, who took the necessary precautions.
“I’ve been on these guys like an 800-pound gorilla.”
He laughed off a question about whether he was protecting people in the industry who have ties to his Progressive Conservative party.
“I’ve been out here just hammering the people that have been negligent in long-term care. I’ve been on these guys like an 800-pound gorilla,” he said.
Darryl Singer is a lawyer with Diamond and Diamond who’s filed three major lawsuits against long-term care operators related to COVID-19.
Despite the “higher threshold,” created by this law, Singer said he expects his lawsuits to be successful.
“All it really does is it raises the standard of what negligence really is,” he told HuffPost Canada.
Singer gave the example of homes that allegedly did not isolate residents who had symptoms of COVID-19.
“What is the number one thing from the first public health recommendation way, way back in February? … If you have COVID symptoms, you need to isolate,” he said. “I would say that’s gross negligence.”
It’s “abundantly clear” that some operators ignored public health recommendations, he said.
“I don’t even see how they could argue with a straight face that they weren’t grossly negligent.”
Others are more worried.
“It is difficult enough for residents and their families to prove the ordinary civil standard of negligence ... without having to discharge the higher and ambiguous standard of ‘gross negligence,’” Graham Webb, the executive director of Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said in a statement.
“This is all about protecting the rights of negligent long-term care home operators at the expense of residents injured through the fault of the operator.”
‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card
Ford’s opposition at Queen’s Park also took issue with the bill.
“It’s a sad day in Ontario when the government prevents people from getting their day in court,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in question period.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner called it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
“Instead of fixing the crisis in nursing homes and guaranteeing better care, the Premier is protecting those who were responsible for bad care,” he said in a statement.