TORONTO -- The family of a man who died of the novel coronavirus at Ontario’s worst-hit nursing home is filing a lawsuit against the facility for alleged negligence and failing to protect residents. 

The lawsuit was filed at the Ontario Superior Court on Monday against Southbridge Care Homes and its 294-bed Orchard Villa long-term care and retirement home, where the novel coronavirus has infected at least 96 staff and 225 residents and killed at least 72 people.

In the 12-page statement of claim, obtained by CTV News Toronto, the family of former resident Paul Parkes, who died at the long-term care home on April 15, alleges that his death occurred as a “direct result” of negligence and breach of contract.

The claim makes 39 serious allegations including that the Pickering, Ont. home failed to follow proper procedures to protect residents, failed to properly care for Paul Parkes and failed to communicate with his family about his condition.

“I've never lost someone this close to me and the grieving process is kind of stunted because of everything else that's going on,” Parkes’ daughter Cathy Parkes told CTV News Toronto on Monday.

“I felt that it was necessary to ask questions, get answers and also have some accountability for what’s happened.”

Toronto law firm Howie, Sacks and Henry LLP has filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cathy and other family members and Paul’s estate and is altogether seeking over $1.5 million in damages.

“I think at the front of this we have a broken system in long-term care that long proceeded COVID-19 that is being absolutely broken by this pandemic,” the family’s lawyer Melissa Miller told CTV News Toronto.

“These homes had an obligation within the legislation and the regulations to have in place proper protocols for emergency situations and outbreaks and it just doesn't look like that was done.”

CTV News Toronto has reached out to the home about the allegations, which have not been proven in court, and its parent company but have not yet received a response.

Orchard Villa

What happened to Paul Parkes?

Parkes was a resident of Orchard Villa since Nov. 8, 2019. The claim alleges that on April 6, his family was advised via phone that there was a flu outbreak at the home.

On April 9, the family observed that 86-year-old Parkes was not well when speaking to them on the phone, and they were told later that day that another resident had tested positive for COVID-19.

At this point, the claim alleges that residents were still eating meals together in the dining room of the home despite the outbreak.

“Over the next few days, Parkes’ health began to significantly deteriorate,” the claim alleges.

“In the meantime, the family was not only getting very little information, but conflicting information from the administration about Paul’s well-being, whether he had COVID-19, and how the home was handling the outbreak and Paul’s care.”

On April 14, the claim alleges that the family asked for Parkes to be transferred to a hospital after learning he was doing worse, but the home said that it could not be done.

Paul Parkes

“On April 15, 2020, the family received a phone call from staff at the home advising that Paul passed away,” the claim states. “The home confirmed with the family on April 18, 2020 that Paul had tested positive for COVID-19.”

The lawsuit alleges that the home and its owner failed to protect Parkes and the other residents at the facility due to “inadequate preventative and responsive measures to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

In the claim, it is alleged that the home failed to “identify that Paul was infected with the virus within a reasonable time frame,” and that management failed to “properly treat” him.

“They failed to perform regular assessments to ensure that any changes in Paul’s condition were observed, recorded, reported to other staff/supervisors and/or the physician in charge,” the claim alleges.

It is further alleged that the home did not “adequately communicate” with the family about Parkes’ condition and failed to ensure that he received the care he needed.

“They failed to ensure that legislated requirements were followed [and] they failed to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of Paul under their custody and supervision,” the claim alleges.

“They failed to have a proper system or any system in place to ensure that Paul would be safe while at the home.”

“They neglected Paul … In the treatment, care and supervision of Paul, they fell below the reasonable standard of care required in the circumstances, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cathy Parkes, an employee of Bell Media, told CTV News Toronto that she appreciates the personal support workers and nursing staff that provided care for her father, but hopes the lawsuit will hold the owners and administrators of Orchard Villa to account.


How the virus allegedly spread at the home

The allegations in the claim extend to how Orchard Villa responded to the outbreak and the care of residents as a whole at the facility.

According to the claim, the home allegedly failed to hire “sufficient” staff to take care of residents, failed to provide proper training and supervision for employees, and failed to enforce a code of conduct.

“Paul would not have died but for the negligence, actions or omissions, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty of the defendants,” the claim alleged.

“Paul endured pain and suffering, and the loss of enjoyment of his last days and weeks of his life as a direct result of the defendants’ negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty to him.”

It further alleges the home failed to implement an adequate COVID-19 response plan, failed to communicate with families regarding presumptive positive cases of the virus and failed to conduct proper visitor screening.

“They failed to put into a place an adequate visitor policy, or have a visitor policy at all, within a reasonable timeframe,” the legal document alleges.

orchard villa

“They failed to implement adequate sanitary measures to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 between the staff and the residents of the home.”

The claim also alleges that the home did not adequately supply or use personal protective equipment (PPE) for visitors, residents and staff and permitted infected visitors and staff to enter the home.

“They knew or ought to have known that the failure to adequately supply or use PPE for visitors, residents and staff would be a danger to the residents,” the claim states.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that the homes failed to implement “adequate physical distancing and isolation measures within a reasonable time frame” and failed to “properly identify and isolate infected residents.”