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Lawyer fumes ruling shields negligent public officials
Date: Sunday, November 05 2006
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November 3, 2006

Lawyer fumes ruling shields negligent public officials

Ruling shields negligent public officials in Ontario from lawsuits, lawyer fumes

By COLIN PERKEL

TORONTO (CP) - Suing public health officials in Canada for negligence will be impossible if a ruling by Ontario's highest court is allowed to stand, a lawyer for victims of West Nile virus said Friday.

Douglas Elliott, lawyer the family of a man who contracted the virus, said the Appeal Court ruling has effectively given public officials "judicial immunity" from lawsuits. "When (public health officials) make mistakes, because of the nature of their operations, they have the potential to injure and kill a lot of people," Elliott said.

"(So) the notion that you cannot sue public health for carelessness is something that affects all Canadians."

In overturning two lower court decisions Friday, the higher court decided the provincial government could not have been expected to prevent the spread of West Nile.

"The risk of contracting disease spread by mosquitoes is one to which all who live in Ontario are exposed," Justice Robert Sharpe wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

"It is not a risk that is created by the provincial government or that arises from the use of a public facility, such as a highway, provided by Ontario."

The decision, which scuttles plans for more than 40 West Nile-related suits against the province by other families and victims, could also mean an end to class-actions arising out of the second SARS outbreak in Ontario in 2003.

Pat Anweiler, a Toronto nurse who uses a wheelchair for mobility because of a West Nile infection, said she was "distressed" victims may now never get their day in court.

"People need to remember that back in 2002, the government was not telling us how serious a threat West Nile Virus was and what we needed to do to protect ourselves," said Anweiler.

"Had I known back then that I was in danger, I could have protected myself."

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2006/11/03/pf-2220373.html

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