Horne v Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre 2018 NSCA 20

In 2002 cardiology researcher Dr. Gabrielle Horne had her hospital privileges varied by the defendant hospital at the urging of her clinical director. Horne and the director did not get along. She challenged the variance and four years later the hospital’s board of directors concluded the director’s allegations justifying it were untrue. They reinstated Horne’s privileges, but in the intervening years her research career foundered. She sued the hospital in breach of contract and bad faith.

While she did not frame the matter in defamation, damages for loss of reputation are, the court concluded, available on a finding of bad faith or malice. The trial judge concluded assessing damages for a cardiologist’s lost reputation is akin to the exercise in a defamation case, and the jury was instructed accordingly. Breach of contract did not go to the jury, but it did find bad faith and malice causing a loss of reputation. The jury awarded Horne $1.4M.

The appeal court took issue with the trial judge’s failure in his jury instructions to fully differentiate Horne’s $8M contract claim, which was denied, and the loss of reputation claim. The court reviewed authorities on quantifying damages for lost reputation, particularly loss of career, and substituted $800K.