POLITICS

B.C. Supreme Court has final say on poisoning settlement after woman dies

07/04/2013 04:34 EDT | Updated 09/03/2013 05:12 EDT
VERNON, B.C. - B.C. Supreme Court has confirmed a $440,000-settlement for the family of an Alberta mother of four who was accidentally poisoned at a B.C. hospital.

Forty-year-old Brenda Gaida died in 2007 when she was given excessive doses of methotrexate — a drug that can be used to treat cancer patients — at Vernon's Jubilee Hospital for a pre-existing skin condition while on vacation with her family.

According to court documents, Gaida was mistakenly given the medication daily rather than weekly.

After spending 16 days at the hospital, her family arranged for her to be flown to a hospital near her home in Edmonton, where she died two months later.

The Vernon hospital and the Interior Health Authority, admitted that Gaida died from poisoning, and that four doctors were at fault for negligent care and treatment.

Court documents say the parties sought a settlement in 2011, and while the hospital said both sides had agreed to $440,000, Gaida's husband Brian Gaida said no binding settlement had ever been concluded.

Gaida, who had wanted a settlement of more than $1 million, said his former lawyer urged him to accept the $440,000 because it was likely the most he could get.

The a high school teacher said he "just gave in," and said yes. But he told the lawyer immediately after that he was concerned, and that the $440,000 would only be acceptable if certain conditions, such as a breakdown of the offer, were met.

"I sincerely felt and believe that I was unreasonably pressured and rushed into accepting the defendants' proposal of $440,000 without the benefit of information that was important to me and the time to thoroughly consider my position," he said in an affidavit.

According to Gaida, the lawyer defied his instructions and accepted the offer, leaving him to feel like his concerns were ignored.

"It must be emphasized that when Brenda was dying in the Vernon Hospital, all of my efforts to voice my concerns about her plight to hospital and medical staff were simply not heard or understood. The 'experts' all knew what was appropriate for her care. I was just a husband," he said in the affidavit.

"Sadly, my experience with the settlement negotiations was rather similar. I felt my concerns were simply not heard or understood. I was just a claimant unsophisticated in the complexities of the law."

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Pearlman found that there was no misapprehension or defiance on the lawyer's part, and has ruled that the settlement agreement is enforceable.

Gaida's current lawyer, Rosanna Saccomani, said the woman's death six years ago has been devastating for her four kids, who range in age from 13 to 22.

"When Brenda Gaida died, she was 40 years of age and she left a very young family," said Saccomani. "To grow up without the love and care and guidance of your mother, it's very difficult to quantify what kind of loss that means for these children."

Court documents say the woman had developed a non-life threatening condition in 2001 that caused open sores to form on her skin. The family was on holiday in the Okanagan in 2007 when her skin became inflamed and she went to the hospital.

Gaida said in his affidavit that hospital staff appeared not to take his wife's condition seriously, and ignored his concerns about the quality of care.

"Contrary to their assertions, Brenda's condition continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate," the affidavit said.

"She soon could no longer eat or speak due to the many large open sores in her mouth and throat," he said. "Never in my life have I felt so helpless."

When Gaida was transported to the Edmonton hospital, the chief of the intensive care unit told Brian that Gaida had been given a significant overdose of methotrexate during her time in the Vernon hospital, and that it may not have been detected because staff did not do adequate blood work.

The daily dosage caused "irreparable harm to Brenda's immune system," and destroyed her white blood cell count. Soon after, Gaida suffered from multi-organ failure and a heart attack, leaving her in a comatose state.

"I maintained a bed side vigil and have never prayed so hard and for so long in my life pleading with God for a miracle," he said in the affidavit.

No one from the Interior Health Authority was available for comment.

-- By Vivian Luk in Vancouver