Quebec judges OK class action over COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes

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A Quebec judge has given the green light to a class-action lawsuit alleging the Quebec government made a series of errors early in the pandemic that contributed to widespread outbreaks and thousands of deaths.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all residents of public long-term care homes (or CHSLDs, as they are called in Quebec) who experienced major outbreaks of COVID-19 between March 13, 2020 and March 20, 2021 .

That means 118 long-term care homes are covered by the class action, according to Patrick Martin-Ménard, the lawyer who pushed for the action to be authorized.

“What happened in March 2020 was not a storm in a blue sky,” the lawyer said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We may not have known what COVID was, but we knew the risks of a pandemic and we knew the ways to prepare for it.”

The Superior Court suit alleges the province’s response to the first two waves of COVID-19 was improvised and that a pre-existing pandemic plan was ignored until it was too late.

The suit seeks compensation of at least $100,000 for each infected member, $40,000 for group members who did not become ill and additional compensation for families in both groups.

The class action also seeks an additional $10 million in punitive damages and alleges that government decisions — including moving hospital patients to long-term care centers — led to additional deaths.

Jean-Pierre Daubois is the main plaintiff in the lawsuit.

His mother, Anna José Maquet, 94, died at CHSLD Ste-Dorothée, in Laval, Quebec, in April 2020. He said his mother suffered from lack of care.

Man speaking.
Patrick Martin-Ménard, seen here at a news conference in 2021, said the province ignored its own pandemic plan in early 2020, when COVID-19 began circulating in Quebec. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

“When I saw the conditions in which my mother died, my first instinct was to call the coroner because to me it looked like criminal negligence,” Daubois said Tuesday.

More than 5,000 people died in Quebec long-term care centers during the period covered by the lawsuit.

These deaths led to a public survey which was led by coroner Géhane Kamel.

In 2021, the inquiry heard testimony from 220 witnesses, including government officials, long-term care home workers and relatives of deceased people.

Kamel issued 23 recommendations to the provincial government.

The complete list of 118 CHSLDs targeted by the lawsuit is available here.

WATCH | Here are some testimonials on deaths due to COVID-19 in Quebec:

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An ongoing coroner’s investigation in Quebec is looking back at what happened in the spring of 2020 in seniors’ residences, where more than 60 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 in the province occurred.

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