The Yukon government has applied to have a negligence lawsuit brought on by the mother of a Carmacks woman who died in 2013 dismissed, claiming that the parties have reached a settlement.
Theresa Blackjack, however, says she hasn’t agreed to anything.
The government filed its application to the Yukon Supreme Court June 20.
Theresa sued the Yukon government, the Yukon’s departments of health and social services and community services, the Carmacks health centre and medical staff in November 2014, alleging their combined negligence led to the death of her daughter, Cynthia Blackjack, the year before.
Cynthia, a 31-year-old citizen of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, died on Nov. 7, 2013 while being medevaced from Carmacks to Whitehorse. She had began complaining to the health centre about dental pain three days prior, and the day before her death, had gone to the centre in-person, where she was tentatively diagnosed with alcohol-induced gastritis.
Staff told Cynthia to go to Whitehorse General Hospital for an assessment but were unable to arrange a ride for her.
Cynthia’s friend called the health centre the next morning to report that she was screaming in pain. Medical personnel decided to medevac her to Whitehorse around 11 a.m., but due to a series of mistakes and equipment issues, she wasn’t airborne until nearly six hours later.
She died at 5:59 p.m., minutes before the medevac landed in Whitehorse.
According to court documents, on April 24 of this year, Yukon government lawyer Cindy Freedman approached Theresa’s lawyer, Susan Roothman, with an offer to settle the lawsuit for $5,000.
“As you know, my clients are of the view that, even if you client was successful at trial, your client would only recover funeral expenses. The $5,000 would more than cover these costs,” Freedman wrote in the letter.
She also wrote that, “(contrary) to the facts as reported in the Court of Appeal decision, the medical records show that there was no refusal to send an ambulance on November 7 and no delay in the arrival of the ambulance … There is no evidence that any equipment failures, medical care by nurses or paramedics or delays in care contributed to her death.”
(Freedman was referencing a Yukon Court of Appeal decision upholding Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale’s order for a coroner’s inquest into Cynthia’s death. Veale’s order was triggered by a petition filed by Theresa and Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation in 2015 after then-chief coroner Kirsten MacDonald refused to call an inquest herself.)
Roothman responded in a May 13 email stating that Theresa “indicated that she is willing to negotiate a settlement to get this matter finalized and out of the way before the inquest starts.”
The next day, Roothman wrote Freedman again, this time saying she had been instructed to give a counter-offer of $25,000.
Freedman replied on May 16, stating her clients had accepted the counter-offer.
A draft version of the settlement agreement states that the settlement “is made without any admission of liability whatsoever” by the defendants, that Theresa “releases and forever discharges” the defendants “from all claims and obligations of any kind,” and must be preceded by Theresa filing a consent order dismissing her lawsuit. It also contains a confidentiality clause stating that the settlement is void should Theresa disclose the terms to anyone, at which point she would have to “immediately repay” the $25,000.
In an email May 27, however, Roothman told Freedman that Theresa had “decided that she does not want to settle after all.”
Freedman replied May 28 that she had “instructions from my clients to take steps to enforce our settlement agreement.”
Roothman, who did not reply to a request for comment, has since withdrawn as Theresa’s lawyer.
In a phone interview July 16, Theresa told the News that she was trying to figure out what to do next, but was adamant that she had never agreed, and still does not agree, to the settlement.
“I didn’t sign nothing. I didn’t sign no paper or agree to it,” she said.
Theresa said she wasn’t fully involved in the settlement negotiations, nor was the process or terms of the settlement explained to her. She didn’t come up with the $25,000 counter-offer, she said, and claimed that Roothman had, one day, told her to go to an office to sign a piece of paper without explaining what was going on.
She described the offer of a $5,000 settlement, and the $25,000 settlement, as a “slap in the face.”
“My daughter’s worth more than that,” she said. “… It’s not that I want the money, it’s the point that my daughter’s not here anymore.”
Yukon Department of Justice spokesperson Fiona Azizaj declined to comment on the settlement or the Yukon government’s application, describing the matter as “confidential.”
The application to enforce the settlement is set to be heard in court Aug. 6.
Meanwhile, the date for Cynthia’s inquest is still being determined. Territorial court Chief Judge Peter Chisholm was appointed in March as a coroner for a one-year term to preside over the inquest.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org