Alberta bill could give COVID-19 liability protection for health providers

EDMONTON — A new bill could mean Albertans would have to prove gross negligence in order to sue a care home or hospital where their loved one contracted and died from COVID-19.

Called the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, Bill 70 would offer protection to owners down to subcontractors of regulated health authorities, facilities and professionals – from Alberta Health Services, to hospitals, to pharmacies.

Tabled Thursday by private member and Calgary MLA Richard Gotfried, the legislation proposes requiring any lawsuit blaming an operator to prove the defendant was grossly negligent.

“Then those people will be held accountable,” Gotfried said that afternoon.

“We will absolutely not protect any bad apples for gross negligence in the performance of their duty.”

According to the latest data, more than 2,000 Albertans have died from the disease.

Several such lawsuits exist. In 2020, claims were made against Revera’s McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, and Shepherd’s Care Foundation and the Good Samaritan Society in Edmonton. Dozens of residents died, and dozens more were sick, between the locations.

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Gotfried said the Alberta government wasn’t enabling health-care providers to avoid responsibility, but ensuring the sector wasn’t decimated by the financial costs of defending against unfounded suits.

“The concern we have is the viability of the sector,” Gotfried commented. “That we can continue to have them focus on the health and wellbeing.”

If passed, the legislation would be retroactive to March 2020, when Alberta began to bring in public health measures for the pandemic. While “gross negligence” is not defined in Bill 70, Gotfried said it is a “well-established standard within the judicial system.”

The legislation would not see current lawsuits dismissed, as was done in Ontario when the province brought in a similar law in 2020; instead, government officials say complainants would have to amend their submission to include the claim of gross negligence.

Gotfried said the legislation could be expanded to other sectors in the future if necessary, and would not impact an employee’s ability to earn benefits from the Workers Compensation Board of Alberta.

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Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have all brought in COVID-19 liability protection. Saskatchewan is in the process of doing so.

According to Gotfried, the government consulted industry partners and constituent feedback, including that which he has heard while leading a provincial review of the continuing-care system. 

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