Biggest medical negligence cases in Canadian history

Read about some of the biggest and most important medical negligence cases in Canada and how these may affect your possible case of medical negligence
Biggest medical negligence cases in Canadian history

Canada’s common law may be a bit confusing and challenging to understand. But did you know that medical negligence cases in Canada are guided by common law or case law? Reading on some of these cases might give you an advantage, especially if you plan to file a case of medical negligence.  

What are the biggest medical negligence cases in Canada? 

Canada has a lot of rulings on medical negligence and medical malpractice. These cases may be ranked as the biggest or the most influential medical negligence cases in Canada in terms of:  

  • the severity of the medical negligence or malpractice at that time 
  • the amount of settlement reached or the amount of damages awarded by the court  
  • their impact on future medical cases or the principle it put forward for Canada’s common law 

Knowing these important cases will give you an overview of how your case might move forward. It can also give you an idea of the type of evidence you must prepare to support your claims and the arguments that these cases have used.  

Sylvester v. Crits et al., [1956] SCR 991 

As early as the 1950s, Canada’s common law had provided plaintiffs (e.g., the patient, their family, heirs, or estate) with the definition of “standard of care”.  

If your doctor or medical practitioner breaches this standard of care, this will give rise to a case of medical negligence against them. 

This is discussed in Sylvester v. Crits et al., one of the most important medical negligence cases in Canada.  

Here, the Supreme Court of Canada (the Court) stated that every medical practitioner must demonstrate a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge. They must also exercise a reasonable degree of care when attending to patients. 

In this case, Dr. Sylvester, an anesthesiologist, was held liable for medical negligence when an explosion occurred during a tonsillectomy. This caused severe burns to the infant, John Crits, plaintiff in this case. 

Boyd et al. v. Edington et al., 2014 ONSC 1130 

While your doctor or surgeon may be protected by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), this should not stop you from being awarded the appropriate amount of damages set by the court. 

Boyd et al. v. Edington et al. is considered one of the biggest medical negligence cases in Canada because of the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff. In this case, C$15 million was awarded in favor of the plaintiff, Danielle Boyd. 

The Superior Court of Ontario held that Dr. Richard Edington was negligent in responding to Boyd when she was rushed to the hospital for what could have been diagnosed as stroke.  

The Court said that Dr. Edington did not meet the standard of care when: 

  • he failed to diagnose that Boyd was already having a major stroke 
  • he wrongly prescribed medications for Boyd 
  • he did not immediately reassess Boyd when called by the hospital nurse’s attention 

Watch this video to know more about medical negligence and malpractice in Canada: 


To learn more about medical negligence, speak with a lawyer in your area. If you live in Edmonton, reach out to any of the best medical negligence lawyers in Alberta as ranked by Lexpert

Reibl v. Hughes, [1980] 2 SCR 880 

When your case involves consent regarding a medical procedure, the case of Reibl v. Hughes may give some additional perspective. It’s now one of the most influential medical negligence cases in Canada. 

The Court in this case proposed a new test to determine whether there has been a lack of informed consent in surgeries and other medical procedures.  

This test – the modified objective test – states that a patient’s informed consent must be based on the perspective of a reasonable person. This must also be related to the plaintiff’s (or the patient’s) overall circumstances. 

In this case, John Reibl filed a case for battery and negligence against Dr. Robert Hughes, his surgeon. Reibl argued that his consent to the surgery performed by Dr. Hughes was not an informed one because Dr. Hughes failed to tell him of the chances that he may be paralyzed after the surgery.  

The Court held that a reasonable person in Reibl’s position would have refused the surgery.  

Reibl’s award of damages, in the amount of C$225,000, was reinstated by the Court. 

Clements v. Clements, 2012 SCC 32 

Claiming medical negligence against your doctor may sound easy when an injury or a complication occurs after your medication or surgery. In another important medical negligence case in Canada, the Court provided plaintiffs with a test to see whether the circumstances would allow them to recover damages against the defendant. 

This is the case of Clements v. Clements, where the Court established the “but for” test.  

This test requires that the plaintiff prove that they would not have been injured were it not for the defendant’s negligence. 

In other words, the concept of the “but for” test would be: “I would not have been injured but for the defendant’s act or negligence, which has now resulted in my injury.” 

Although this case involved a motorcycle accident between a husband and wife, the “but for” test has been applied by the courts to determine the causation (or the relationship) of the patient’s injury and the doctor’s acts or omissions in medical negligence cases. 

Read some of the actual cases as the costliest examples of medical negligence in Canada with this article.

Trilogy cases limiting the award of damages 

There is a limit set by the Court on the amount of general damages a plaintiff can recover. This is the common law principle established in the “trilogy cases on damages” which were rendered by the Court at the same time in 1978. These cases are: 

When these cases were released, the limit was capped at C$100,000. But due to inflation, this amount was adjusted and is now at C$445,000 as of 2023. 

You may want to consider these important common law principles when deciding on the award of damages you’re going to request from the court.  

The trilogy cases do not affect the computation of other damages such as pecuniary damages, also called special damages or out-of-pocket damages. These damages must be based on actual expenses or figures. 

Want to know more of other medical negligence cases in Canada that may be similar with your case? Talk with any of the Lexpert top-ranked medical negligence lawyers in Canada.