HALIFAX – A court has dramatically reduced a cardiology researcher’s record-setting, $1.4 million judgment for damages from a workplace battle at a Halifax hospital.
In a decision released Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal reduced Dr. Gabrielle Horne’s damages to $800,000.
It said the lower figure better represents the “loss of reputation and loss to her research career” after a personality conflict torpedoed her heart research.
Horne was researching “the mechanical differences in the hearts of patients who have stable and unstable heart muscle problems” at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.
But her relationship with the director of the hospital’s Heart Function Clinic was “strained,” and he successfully pushed to have her privileges varied to restrict her access to the clinic’s patients, the appeal court said. A medical advisory committee found her “poor interpersonal relationships with some colleagues could indeed expose patients to harm.”
As a result, she couldn’t conduct her research and the entire research program folded.
Horne sued the QEII and Capital Health (now part of the Nova Scotia Health Authority) in 2006.
In 2016, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury found health officials acted in bad faith, and awarded the $1.4 million judgment, believed to be the largest sum ever awarded for a loss of reputation and career lawsuit.
Horne has said her lawsuit originally sought damages that would fund a plan to rebuild the research program, but at the end of the 33-day trial, the judge decided the jury wouldn’t be able to consider those damages.
The appeal court dismissed Horne’s appeal of the scope of damages, as well as the health authority’s own appeal of liability.
The appeal ruling detailed the personality conflicts behind the dispute, and how officials turned against Horne.
“We are satisfied that Capital Health’s bad faith caused significant and lasting damage to Dr. Horne’s reputation,” the three-judge panel wrote. “Just as being unethical afflicts the core of a lawyer’s professional integrity, being termed a risk to patients pierces the heart of what is expected of a physician. It is hard to imagine a more vital blow to a medical professional’s station. We are further satisfied that the consequences will follow Dr. Horne well into the future.”