October 4, 2018 by Greg Meckbach
The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear the appeal of a personal injury lawyer who is out of pocket $30,000 after she tried to prevent a hospital from taking a vehicle accident claimant off life support.
The lawyer represented Fernando Ferreira, who was injured in a vehicle accident in Ontario in 2016. After the accident, the following July, Ferreira was taken to St. Mary’s General Hospital and put on life support after being found at home in cardiac arrest. Although an ambulance crew had been able to restore his pulse, Ferreira suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. Court documents do not state any correlation between the accident and the heart attack.
Georgiana Masgras, founder of Masgras Personal Injury Lawyers, represented Ferreira in his claims for neck and lower back pain arising from the vehicle accident. While Ferreira was in intensive care at the hospital following the heart attack, his family and doctors decided he should be taken off life support.
Masgras attempted to get a court injunction that would have ordered hospital staff to keep Ferreira on life support. She succeeded initially, but later Ferreira was removed from life support.
In Ferreira v. St. Mary’s General Hospital, released in March 2018, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ordered Masgras to pay the hospital $19,885 and Dr. Christopher Hinkewich $11,642 to reimburse their in legal costs. Masgras appealed the costs award to the Supreme Court of Canada, which refused to hear her case.
Masgras’s husband, a chiropractor, was treating Ferreira at the time, judge Ian Nordheimer of the Court of Appeal for Ontario wrote. Masgras and her husband contacted Ferreira’s family asking them to reconsider. Early in the morning on Saturday, July 8, 2017, Masgras asked a court for the injunction ordering the hospital not to remove Ferreira from life support.
Initially, a judge ordered Dr. Hinkewich by phone not to remove Ferreira from life support. But the next day, Justice Frank Marrocco of the Superior Court of Justice set aside the initial order after the doctor told the court that Ferreira was brain dead. As a result, Ferreira was taken off life support. When all this was happening, both the hospital and Dr. Hinkewich called their lawyers; they ultimately won their case, with Masgras now has to pay their legal bills from her own pocket.
Masgras appealed the ruling that set aside the injunction. She argued that as Ferreira’s personal injury lawyer, she was obligated to protect his interests. However, lawyers “do not have the right to institute proceedings without being armed with instructions from their clients to do so,” countered Nordheimer.
In acting without instructions from her client or a “litigation guardian” of the client – and against the wishes of her client’s family – Masgras’s actions “seriously interfered with the administration of justice,” Justice Nordheimer wrote. Concurring were judges Russell Juriansz and Bradley Miller.
In taking the steps that she did with “no authority,” Masgras “breached the basic principles that apply to the conduct of lawyers,” wrote Nordheimer.
Masgras has argued that the Law Society of Ontario stipulates that lawyers must continue to maintain a lawyer-client relationship after a client’s ability to make decisions is impaired due to a mental disability, and to ensure the client’s interests are not abandoned.
Those same rules also say a lawyer “may need to take steps to have a lawfully authorized representative appointed” – a litigation guardian, for example – to protect a client’s interests, Nordheimer wrote.