Tag: Sexual Abuse Claims

Woodlands Survivor Class Action Application Deadline Extended to September 2012

Earlier this year the BC Supreme Court refused to approve a class action settlement involving historic sexual abuse claims where the proposed settlement would impose a limitation period for class members where one would not otherwise exist.  Further reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with the balancing act of sexual abuse class action settlements and imposed limitation periods.
This week’s case (Richard v. British Columbia) involved the Woodlands school class action settlement which was initially approved on July 7, 2010.  One of the terms of the settlement required class members to advance their claims by September 19, 2011.  The deadline came and went and due to the complexity of the claims only a handful met the filing deadline.  An application was brought to extend this deadline.  Such applications were contemplated in the original settlement agreement.
Mr. Justice Bauman agreed that an extension was appropriate although declined the Plaintiff’s request for an indefinite extension.  Instead the Court moved the claims deadline to September 19, 2012 “without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ right to apply for further extensions“.  In striking this balance the Court provided the following comments seeking to reconcile the need for certainty in resolution against the need to protect BC sex abuse victims who generally aren’t faced with a limitation period in advancing their civil claims for damages:
[17]         I agree with the defendant that the application requires the Court to strike a balance between the parties which recognizes that in the give and take of the settlement negotiation process, each side made compromises to achieve their respective goals. It would be unfair, after the fact, to effectively take from one party a critical part of what it gained in the process through negotiation and compromise.
[18]         But in all the circumstances of this settlement, I do not believe that a substantial extension of the claims deadline can be so construed (especially in light of the fact that no limitation period attaches to these claims or at least a very substantial number of them). Still, an indefinite extension is not appropriate. I would, at this time, extend the claims deadline by one year to 19 September 2012, without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ right to apply for further extensions. It is not appropriate to condition this extension, as the defendant proposes, by requiring the Class Members to file a so-called “without prejudice interim claim” within three months. In my view, such a condition would effectively make the claims deadline extension illusory in the circumstances of the difficulties facing the plaintiffs and their counsel in advancing the claims process.

Settlement Approved in Woodlands Abuse Class Action Lawsuit

The Woodlands School was a facility operated by the Province of British Columbia until 1996.  It housed children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
Two well documented investigative reports highlighted a sad history which involved systemic physical, sexual and psychological abuse perpetrated against these vulnerable residents.  The reported abuse included “hitting, kicking, smacking, slapping, striking, restraining, isolating, grabbing by the hair or limbs, dragging, pushing onto table, kicking and shoving, very cold showers, very hot baths resulting in burns to the skin, verbal abuse including swearing, bullying and belittling, inappropriate conduct such as extended isolation, wearing shackles and belt-leash with documented evidence of injuries including bruising, scratches, broken limbs, black eyes and swollen face.”
A class action lawsuit was launched in 2002 seeking compensation for the Victims of the Woodlands School.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Richard v. British Columbia) approving a settlement for the survivors.
The settlement allows each survivor who was abused after August 1, 1974 to receive between $3,000 and $150,000 in compensation.  (the reason for the August 1974 cut off is because people abused before that time don’t have the right to sue the Province of British Columbia as a result of a law known as The Crown Proceeding Act).  In all this is a class of 1,168 individuals.
The approved settlement does not award each member a specific dollar figure, rather it approves a system in which each class member can efficiently seek access to compensation based on a negotiated system which focuses on the nature of abuse they suffered.
This settlement is an example of a creative resolution to a series of very difficult claims many of which may not have succeeded at individual trials due to technical issues of evidence and limitation defenses.  This judgement is worth reviewing in full for anyone involved in or interested in cases dealing with damages suffered through historic acts of institutional physical and sexual abuse.
Mr. Justice Bauman concludes his reasons by congratulating the parties on reaching compromise in the claim which is a sentiment well worth repeating.

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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