Lawsuits Alleging Ontario Government Put Economic Interests Ahead of Nursesí Safety during SARS Outbreaks are Allowed to Proceed

A series of significant lawsuits against the government of Ontario involving Toronto nurses infected by SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) have been allowed to continue after a ruling by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court.

The three lawsuits affected by the ruling include:

·A $600-million class-action brought by a nurse (Andrea Williams) infected with SARS in May 2003

·A $12-million lawsuit brought by the family of a nurse (Nelia Laroza) who died in June 2003

·A lawsuit on behalf of 53 infected nurses (each seeking over $17 million in damages) including one by the family of a nurse (Tecia Lin) who died in July 2003 

Although some parts of the lawsuits were dismissed, the remaining claims were permitted to continue. Two of the lawsuits allege that prior to the second outbreak known as SARS2, as Toronto was the subject of a World Health Organization travel advisory, government officials lowered their guard, eased hospital infection-control measures, and publicly declaring that the outbreak had been contained.

The suit by the Ontario Nurses’ Association alleges negligence in the handling of the SARS outbreak, arguing officials failed to provide adequate and timely information alerting nurses on how to protect themselves.

Although nurse Laroza began showing symptoms of SARS in May 2003 and believed she had contracted the illness, an emergency-room doctor sent her home with instructions to take Tylenol. Laroza died of SARS-related complications in late June 2003 after having infected her teenaged son. Six patients in the orthopedic ward where Laroza worked also died of SARS.

Her son stated: "Winning this motion and allowing our case to go to trial is a huge step towards finding out why our mother was allowed to die."

The plaintiffs claim that provincial officials pressured WHO to lift its travel advisory prematurely because it had severely affected tourism to Canada’s largest city. The government is accused of favoring tourism and economic considerations over infection control and the health of the Ontario residents.

The province of Ontario is considering whether to appeal this ruling.

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