Workplace bullying focus of court case

Ryan Ross
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Workplace bullying focus of court case

A family's claim that workplace bullying led to Eric Donovan's fatal heart attack will proceed through the courts after a successful appeal of the case's dismissal.

Donovan worked at Queen's County Residential Services, which is an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities.

In 2013 he suffered a work-related back injury and about a month later he had a heart attack.

Donovan died fewer than two weeks later.

His widow and two children allege workplace bullying caused Donovan stress, anxiety and fear, which led to his fatal heart attack.

Those allegations include that hostile and demeaning statements were made about his work performance, he was forced to work extra hours and he was forced to do unsafe work.

Queens County Residential Services and Donovan's supervisor, Nadine Hendriken, are named in the lawsuit that claims damages for losses the family suffered after Donovan's death.

The P.E.I. Court of Appeal heard the case after a lower court dismissed the claim saying it didn't have jurisdiction over the matter.

In a unanimous decision, Justice John Mitchell disagreed with the lower court and overturned the dismissal along with an order for costs against the Donovan family.

Mitchell addressed the issue of costs with criticism directed at lawyers and what he said has become a disturbing trend in the profession that leaves the courts accessible only to people who can afford it.

"This is a concern not just for the profession but for society as well," he wrote.

Mitchell said lawyers should zero in on the issues on which a case will turn and not over prepare.

"One does not need to build a battleship to do the job of a dingy," he wrote.

Mitchell also targeted the provincial government, saying it was making the problem worse by taxing legal services, adding fees for court services and increasing old fees.

The tax on legal services is not a tax on lawyers, Mitchell said, and noted $11,731 was paid in HST by one side in this case.

"Access to justice should be the right of every citizen and not turned into a profit centre by the government."

Mitchell awarded more than $5,000 in costs.

Organizations: County Residential Services, Queen's, P.E.I. Court

Geographic location: HST

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Recent comments

  • Jenn Sadai
    February 22, 2016 - 10:01

    Workplace bullying is everywhere and we need to shine more light on cases like this to put an end to it. I was a victim and now I'm sharing my story with the world, so others know they are not alone. If we say nothing, the bullies win. That's why I refuse to be bullied into silence!

  • Stop Bullying Now
    February 02, 2016 - 13:13

    Workplace bullying is real here on PEI, even in government jobs. Management needs to step in and become diligent to stop it. Bullies never work alone and need to boost their egos by involving others in their sick play. If you stand by and doing nothing, you are not taking a stand against bullying. If you see it , try to stop it!!!If you fear retaliation then report it to management or human resource department. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. I hope the family wins this case and I can see more and more cases will arise!!!

  • Sammy
    February 02, 2016 - 11:56

    Mitchel should not criticize lawyers re costs. He hails from the most expensive law firm on PEI. If you want to talk double standards then you only need to look at that firm. Only the very well healed can access their firm without taking out a 2nd mortgage on your house.

  • James
    February 02, 2016 - 11:53

    Great ruling by Justice John Mitchell. This game of lawyering has been going on for years. Many people are not affored their equal right to Justice due to legal costs and the extended time lawyers delay cases for their own profit. There are only certain people who know how a trial will play out and that is the lawyers. Believe me alot of them are practicing awayfrom the very oath they took and the rules od the Law Society. I wish this family success in their pursuit of Justice

  • Quiet Observer
    February 02, 2016 - 11:18

    Sorry Justice Mitchell, you are too late. Access to justice on PEI is already out of the reach of all but a very few wealthy Islanders. Ordinary Islanders cannot afford 10s of thousands of dollars in legal fees and lawyers know it and use the pending costs of legal proceedings to make sure that ordinary clients cannot take action against those with deeper pockets. One of the worst offenders being the Maintenance Enforcement Program which regularly bullies payees and tells them that if they don't like it, take them to court. Who can afford to take on a government that has bottomless pockets for legal fees? Face it, the legal system on PEI is a tool for the well-to-do, corporations and government to continue to use to beat down the ordinary citizen. And the system will never change when it is designed and governed by lawyers who are only interested in lining their pockets with excessive legal fees. Is it any wonder people don't trust lawyers and the legal system?

  • MFH
    February 02, 2016 - 10:18

    Good Job !!! Justice Mitchell

  • Costs
    February 02, 2016 - 10:05

    If the case was worth $5000 in fees for the Donovans, it was worth the same for the province.....So, the province gets away with external legal representation in the amount of $98,000 on that motion alone (not including the earlier court case)? And, $11,000 in taxes. And, the plaintiff, who unfortunately had to appeal, doesn't even get $17,000 for the appeal? In my opinion, this costs decision is not over. If the family of the deceased is responsible for paying $12,000 for that... a good faith government / Deputy Minister is compelled to bring their exorbitant legal fee to the Prothonotary Charlie Thompson for taxation. It looks like the fair cost (for the taxpayer?) is around $5000. Wade?

  • Karl Proude
    February 02, 2016 - 08:48

    Taxed after were dead ( On our funeral service ) and after we are in the ground ,they know someone is going to have to pay for it. Disgusting as it is, we are suppose to respect our Politicians and beleive everything they stand for and say is the almighty word. The one word I do beleive and understand, is GREED to the very Core. Thank you for your views on this Judge Mitchell.