Long-running lawsuit involving Emma Roche and P.E.I. hospital settled

A long-standing lawsuit involving a disabled Charlottetown girl and the Prince Edward Island health-care system has been settled.

Lawyers representing Emma Roche and her parents reached a settlement with the province late in 2021, after private hearings before a judge in P.E.I. Supreme Court.

Details of the resolution are confidential, under a nondisclosure agreement reached by the parties.

“I can’t tell you the amount of tears shed, the emotion in this particular case. It’s huge,” said Halifax lawyer Ray Wagner, who had represented the girl and her parents since the inception of the lawsuit 11 years ago. “It’s been a a highly emotional and charged case over all these years.”

He added: “The legacy of Emma, hopefully, is that we can get cases to trial faster, more efficiently in the province of P.E.I.” 

Emma’s parents Melissa Driscoll and Danny Roche participated in the closed-door hearings conducted by Justice Wayne Cheverie in Charlottetown last November. The matter had been slated for trial by jury in Supreme Court next month.

Emma’s parents declined comment about settlement but agreed that Wagner could talk about the case.

“There is some sense of relief but also a great desire to privately move on with their lives,” he told CBC News.

Supporters of Emma Roche and her family organized a rally outside P.E.I. Supreme Court in Charlottetown in 2019 to demand the case move faster. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

CBC News contacted Health PEI and the P.E.I. Department of Health for comment, but did not receive a reply.

Emma was an eight-month-old back in January 2010 when she suffered irreparable brain damage following treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

She was diagnosed with fever and upper respiratory infection, and was discharged from the hospital and later readmitted before going into cardio-respiratory arrest, according to the family’s statement of claim. She was airlifted to Halifax, and court documents say testing at the IWK Children’s Hospital confirmed “severe brain injury with limited brain function.”

Her parents filed a lawsuit in 2011, seeking $22 million — in part, for the cost of life-long care for their severely disabled daughter.

Melissa Driscoll and Danny Roche, photographed in June 2019 (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Lawyers for Queen Elizabeth Hospital and staff named in the lawsuit vigorously defended their actions in Emma’s case and their handling of medical matters, and filed statements of defence that stated their intention to challenge all damaging allegations contained in the lawsuit if the matter went to trial.

Over the years, the family’s legal team warned that time was running out for the girl as the process crept through the courts.

Emma died in 2019, at the age of nine. 

“There has to be a cultural change in the way we bring these very rare but very significant cases to a court of law, so the family can know if they’re going to have the resources to provide the necessary care to their loved one,” said Wagner.

There has to be a cultural change in the way we bring these cases to court– Ray Wagner, lawyer for Emma Roche

Only a fraction of civil suits against health-care providers in Atlantic Canada are successful, according to Wagner.

Costs for preparing malpractice cases, including testimony from medical experts, can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, the lawyers finance the case on behalf of clients, according to Wagner.

“There should be more access for people who simply can’t afford or can’t find a lawyer who will finance the case or don’t have the resources themselves,” he said.

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