may keep a low profile, but if you sue a doctor it’s
almost always the Canadian Medical Protective Association
running the show. Ninety-five percent of Canada’s doctors
are members. So just how far will the CMPA go to protect a
Paul Harte was an insider. He may sue doctors now, but he used
to help defend the Canadian Medical Protective Association’s
doctors. He knows how the system works.
Paul Harte used to help defend the Canadian Medical
Protective Association’s doctors. He knows how
the system works.
driven by protect[ing] the doctor’s reputation, almost
at all costs,” he says. “If it’s necessary,
they would spend $100,000 protecting the doctor against a
a lot of time, believe me,” says lawyer Pete Mockler,
who consulted with widower Mike O’Reilly.
“It’s mainly a lot of time because the CMPA fights
them so hard… They basically take the view that anyone
suing a doctor is in the extortion business.”
outrageous, but that’s what the editors of a medical
journal said 100 years ago when the CMPA was first established.
“Most of these cases arise out of complete ignorance…or
from a desire to extort money,” the journal read. Doctors
therefore needed a “powerful and well managed protective…
association” to defend them.
that’s exactly what they got. They may keep a low profile,
but if you sue a doctor it’s almost always the Canadian
Medical Protective Association running the show. Ninety-five
percent of Canada’s doctors are members.
and Vic Shobridge say their daughter Shannon is too
traumatized to talk about her case. An obstetrician
left six feet of gauze inside Shannon and then tried
to cover it up.
just how far will the CMPA go to protect a doctor's reputation?
The legal strategy is well worn: deny the doctor did anything
wrong, even when the negligence seems pretty clear.
the surgeon who spilled a couple hundred gallstones inside
a woman's abdomen and sewed her up without noticing. The CMPA
blamed her suffering on her troubled family life.
how about the doctor who sparked a fire on the operating table,
giving his patient second-degree burns? The CMPA blamed faulty
the judges weren’t buying it. They found both doctors
same goes for the obstetrician who left six feet of gauze
inside patient Shannon Shobridge, and then tried to cover
doctor turned to the nurses and said ‘don’t write
this down. No paperwork on this.’ And then [he] actually
approached another nurse and tried to make sure that she didn't
squeal on him. That's malpractice,” says lawyer Thomas
Berger. But the former BC Supreme Court justice had to fight
for four years to prove it.
their strategy,” says Berger. “It’s, I think,
coordinated across the country. It's intended to make these
cases as difficult as possible for plaintiffs.”
Thomas Berger had to fight for four years to prove Shobridge's
Shobridge did eventually win her case – but at a price.
The six feet role of gauze was one thing – the CMPA’s
lawyer was something else.
“She’s traumatized by the whole thing,”
says Shannon’s mother, Trudy – too traumatized
to even talk about it.
told the court the medical complications had wrecked her career.
The CMPA’s lawyer went to town on her to reduce her
she got into court the lawyer really beat up on her,”
says Trudy. “They more or less told her that because
she was dyslexic, she wasn’t bright enough to have a
Ross is the CMPA’s lead lawyer, a hired gun from
a $400-an-hour Ottawa law firm.
practice for the CMPA says our insider, Paul Harte, and they
want to make sure everyone knows it.
“Because of the way they defend cases, it has the side
effect of dramatically reducing the number of medical malpractice
cases that come forward,” says Harte.
Ross says the CMPA’s just doing its job. Ross is the
association’s lead lawyer, a hired gun from a $400-an-hour
Ottawa law firm.
Physicians belong to the CMPA because … they want to
know that they will be vigorously defended.
DISCLOSURE: “The truth is few medical
malpractice plaintiff lawyers survive the CMPA’s suffocating
tactics and manage to get some compensation for their clients.”
This from a malpractice lawyer.
ROSS: Is there a question?
Do you agree?
ROSS: No. There is [never a] deliberate attempt
simply to delay the case.
DISCLOSURE: There’s never an attempt
to do that, there’s never an attempt to “suffocate”
some complainants do give up when it comes to face the CMPA,
including widower Mike O’Reilly, who wanted to sue over
his wife’s drug overdose. “I’m frightened,
I’ll be truthful,” he says. “What can I do
with an organization that has $2 billion and probably the finest
lawyers in the country? I feel defeated right away… I’m
not going to sue anyone.”
Widower Mike O’Reilly wanted to sue over his wife’s
drug overdose. He's given up.
how many more Mike O’Reilly’s are there out there?
No one knows for sure, but the only government report ever
commissioned on the subject estimated less than ten per cent
of legit cases of medical negligence are ever compensated.
report was released in 1990. Paul Harte says nothing’s
one in ten legit cases of general malpractice go forward because
of the costs associated with them… There’s nine
people out there who have been injured through no fault of
their own, who are not being compensated.”
CMPA does pay up on around 400 cases a year – and it
can afford it. It has a $2 billion war chest. That money is
also used to pay for that vigorous legal defence.
you may be interested to know that you, the taxpayer, are
footing most of the bill. Doctors pay fees to the CMPA, and
those fees are then refunded by the province. Ontario doctors
get around a seventy per cent refund. In B.C. some fees are
one hundred per cent refundable.
Do you think that this is in the public’s interest?
certainly is in the public interest to have a fund
that’s available to compensate them if they
are harmed as a result of medical care," says
ROSS: It certainly is in the public interest
to have a fund that’s available to compensate them if
they are harmed as a result of medical care. Certainly it’s
in their interest.
DISCLOSURE: And it’s in the public’s
interest to have an aggressive legal team that will go and
try to keep these claims out?
ROSS: No, that’s not what the legal
team tries to do… I’m sure that your parents told
you when you were growing up that there’s always more
than one side to a story.
next: Morgan's Case