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Court awards damages in death of Hermina Fletcher

Statement on Behalf of a Client

For immediate release: May 10, 2024

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ordered former Fort Frances nurse Lindsey Coyle to pay $130,000 in damages and costs to the estate of her deceased victim, Hermina Fletcher, and her surviving son and granddaughter.


The estate, Melvin Fletcher Jr., and Melissa Fletcher were the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against Coyle and her employer, Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc., in 2021. Riverside operates La Verendrye Hospital, where Coyle was employed as a nurse. In January 2015, Coyle falsified the medication administration record of Hermina Fletcher - then a patient in her care - to steal narcotics for her own use. A subsequent nurse, relying on the falsified record and fraudulently increased dosage, administered the drugs which resulted in Hermina's death from morphine toxicity.


Coyle was charged with second-degree murder and other offences in August 2019. She pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death in August 2022. On January 16, 2024, she was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. She is currently serving that sentence. The sentencing decision of Justice Joubert of the Ontario Court of Justice is available online. While Coyle initially appealed her sentence, she has since abandoned her appeal.


In a two-part decision in the Fletchers' civil suit against Coyle, Regional Senior Justice Newton assessed the total of general damages and costs payable by Coyle at $130,000, plus pre- and post-judgment interest.


His Honour's decision was reached following a default judgment motion by the plaintiffs after Coyle failed to serve a defence. The Fletchers had earlier resolved their claims against Riverside. The decision is reported as 2023 ONSC 6757 and 2024 ONSC 2642. Some legal takeaways from the decision are summarized here.


Documents filed with the court in support of the Fletchers' default judgment motion indicate that Riverside had identified discrepancies in hospital narcotics records during Coyle's shifts. These discrepancies were identified for 58 in-patients, 25 emergency patients, and up to 35 fabricated 'patients' that did not exist.


Riverside has failed to confirm whether it ever notified any of these patients, and the Minister of Health has declined to open an investigation.


In the criminal sentencing decision, Justice Joubert stated that the pattern of Coyle's misconduct at the hospital was a significant factor in sentencing, writing:

I find that the decision-making, actions and neglect by Lindsay Coyle on January 3, 2015, were part of a pattern of behaviour that continued over at least a two-and-a-half-month period. I find the behaviour over that period of time to have been strikingly similar. It involved the repeated falsification by Ms. Coyle of medical admission records, and even her the creation of fake patients, in order to access and then steal narcotics for her personal use. In total, it involved repeated falsifications and theft by Ms. Coyle of some 700 mg of morphine and 22 mg of hydromorphone between November 1, 2014, and January 15, 2015, which on many days Ms. Coyle would use while at work in quantities that left her caring for patients "high as a kite".


I view this broader context to be highly aggravating. It takes the case from one in which a series of decisions, actions, and ultimately criminal negligence on a single day caused a patient to die to one in which the behaviour is part of a prolonged pattern of behaviour in which Ms. Coyle chose day after day to the trust of the patients she cared for, the hospital, her colleagues, and the public by repeatedly putting patients' lives at risk.


The Fletcher plaintiffs are represented by Judson Howie LLP.

 

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Further Information:



Contact:

Douglas W. Judson

Email: doug@judsonhowie.ca

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