Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tainted-blood victims not told about compensation availability

Tainted-blood victims not told about compensation availability

Ian MacLeod, Postmedia NewsPublished: Sunday, July 17, 2011
OTTAWA - At least 200 potential victims of Canada's tainted-blood scandal have never officially been informed they could be entitled to thousands of dollars in compensation.

Only recently, and a decade after the Canadian Red Cross Society put more than $70 million into a trust fund for people who received diseased blood transfusions, did the fund's trustee learn that no public notice was ever given about the availability of one portion of the fund.

The mix-up is the latest indignity in Canada's worst public-health scandal, in which thousands of hemophiliacs and transfusion recipients contracted HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other diseases in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The fund was set up by the courts after the charity sought bankruptcy protection in 1998. A $500,000 sum was made available to victims who contracted blood-borne illnesses other than HIV, hepatitis C and Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD). It is called the "Other Transfusions Claims Trust" or OTC Fund, one of five comprising the overall trust.

Apparently, however, no one told potential victims of the OTC money or the claims procedure, according to recent evidence in an Ontario court.
Likely as a result, only two individuals made OTC Fund claims. Each received the $10,000 maximum.

Now, with the OTC Fund set to expire Oct. 5, an Ontario judge has granted a one-year extension, while officials scramble to get the word out and administer any resulting claims.

"It appears that general notice of the existence of the fund was not given to potential claimants," Ontario Superior Court Justice D.M. Brown said in a written decision released this week.

"From the evidence filed, it is apparent that virtually no steps have been taken to give general notice about the existence of the OTC Fund, no claimants ever approached the trustee or his counsel about the OTC Fund and, over the course of 10 years, only two claims have been made.

"Not to extend the (deadline) would impair the effectiveness of the fund and deny access to that fund to eligible claimants who, through no fault of their own, had no knowledge about the existence of the fund."
The application for an extension was brought by the fund's trustee, Peter Cory, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice.

In the reasons for his decision, Justice Brown said before the trust fund was sanctioned, the bankruptcy monitor for the Red Cross, "gave general notice to potential transfusion claimants of the need to register to obtain materials regarding the procedure to file proof-of-claim forms.
"The monitor's proof-of-claim form gave claimants three options by which to describe the nature of their claim: (I) hepatitis C; (ii) HIV; or, (iii) 'Other'. The deadline for the submission of those forms was July 23, 1999.

"Evidently the trustee and his counsel only recently learned that the monitor's proof-of-claim form contained an 'Other' box. Inquiries with the monitor have disclosed that it received 213 proof-of-claim forms on which the claimant made a marking in the 'Other' box."

About 2,000 hemophiliacs and transfusion recipients contracted HIV/AIDS, while another 20,000 recipients of blood and blood products contracted hepatitis C.

In 1997, a royal commission headed by Justice Horace Krever concluded the federal government, provinces and the Red Cross took too long to respond to the emerging threats of blood-borne AIDS and hepatitis C. His chief recommendation was that all victims, not just those who contract AIDS, be compensated.

He described a number of diseases which could be transmitted by the transfusion of blood, apart from CJD, hepatitis C and HIV, and the evidence presented in the Ontario court action suggested the OTC Fund was intended to compensate persons who contracted those other diseases.
Governments, the Red Cross and insurance companies responded by creating various compensation programs and settled class-action law suits. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid to thousands of victims.
In 2005, the Canadian Red Cross pleaded guilty to a single regulatory charge and was fined $5,000.
Ottawa Citizen

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