Public Fatality Inquiries

When someone dies prematurely, there are sometimes unanswered questions and there is a need to inquire further into the cause of death. The Fatality Inquiries Act (“Act”) which governs fatality inquiries in Alberta, covers such things as the necessity of notification, the process of board review and public inquiries. In Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the Coroners' Act applies.

Not all deaths require an inquiry or Coroner's inquest, but there are certain situations where a medical examiner or an investigator must be notified of the death. These include:

  • Unexplained/unexpected deaths;
  • Deaths occurring during or after an operation;
  • Deaths occurring through negligence, poison, injury or toxic substance; 
  • Death of a person under the care of a mental health facility; and
  • Deaths occurring while incarcerated or in detention.

Once reported, the Chief Medical Examiner determines if a case requires a public fatality inquiry. The inquiry is meant to be open to the public and all Interested Parties (as defined in the Act) are given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings. These inquiries are designed to allow a level of transparency into the investigation. A judge is appointed, not to make a legal finding of guilt or responsibility, but to examine the circumstances surrounding the death and potentially providing recommendations for the prevention of future deaths in similar circumstances.

A public fatality inquiry is a search for answers and no one person is on trial. Even so it is important that those involved in an inquiry seek legal representation to ensure that their actions are properly characterized by the Court and that adverse findings are not made which may affect parallel civil litigation and public perception of the client.

McLennan Ross has extensive experience in appearing before Fatality Inquiries and dealing with the unique issues in that forum that do not exist in the criminal or civil law context. 

Don Dear, Q.C.  
Doug Boyer  

Public Inquiry into the death of Garrick Eng
Represented a home caregiver company that was hired to provide nighttime medical monitoring and care for a severely physically and mentally disabled minor living at home. The minor passed away while the caregiver company's employee was on duty. The employee manipulated the monitoring devices so that they did not warn of the minor's medical jeopardy prior to his death. Although the employee was criminally convicted prior to the Inquiry, the Inquiry sought to find other ways to avoid a similar occurrence in the future.

Public Inquiry into the death of Fong Sue Louis
Represented the insurer of a long term care facility which was an interested party into the accidental strangling death of a resident.

Public Inquiry into the death of Maddox Yellow Wings

Represented the owner of a hotel following an unfortunate incident which resulted in a drowning death of a minor in a wave pool in Southern Alberta.

Public Inquiry into the death of Verna Eliason
Represented a long term care facility with respect to the death of a resident after a fall.

Public Inquiry into the death of Irene Raffa

As a result of the transfer of a resident/patient to an EMS stretcher and the subsequent accident resulting in the death of a resident/patient, we represented a long term care facility in the ensuing fatality inquiry. Following the presentation of evidence including a number of experts, the long term care facility was found to have the appropriate systems in place and no further recommendations were made for a change in policy or procedure.

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