Nova Scotia mass shooter’s common-law wife files lawsuit against his estate
|Toronto Star 13 Aug 2020 at 20:25|
HALIFAX—The common-law wife of the man who committed the country’s worst mass killing is now suing his estate for damages, complicating the matter of how the shooter’s assets will be distributed.
The lawsuit filed this week follows a class-action suit for damages against the shooter’s estate that was filed in May by families of the shooting victims.
Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist, began his rampage in Portapique, N.S. on the night of April 18, with an assault on his common-law wife. It ended 13 hours later, on April 19, when police found and killed him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., almost 100 kilometres away. In the interim, the gunman had killed 22 people in four different communities, set homes on fire and terrorized much of Colchester County.
Wednesday’s claim is notable for its brevity and lack of detail. In 11 paragraphs, it lays out that the woman had a long-term relationship with the gunman — saying it was “over the course of many years” — and rudimentary facts about the night of April 18: that she and Wortman were at his property in Portapique; that he assaulted her and imprisoned her; and that she suffered physical, emotional and psychological trauma.
“It really is a bare-bones, skeletal kind of claim,” said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“It almost invites the defendant to say, ‘I need more particulars.’”
The defendant in this case would be the Office of the Public Trustee in its capacity as the administrator of Wortman’s estate. The Public Trustee is a provincial entity that administers the estates of deceased persons, incompetent persons, children and missing persons. In this situation, as the administrator of the estate, the Public Trustee is named as defendant in both the families’ class action suit, and the new suit.
It raises the question of how damages might be awarded. With two similar lawsuits in the works involving the same defendant — although the families’ class action also names companies owned by Wortman — both would have to work their way through the justice system simultaneously.
“I suppose the way it would work is each class action would get its resolution with whatever damages — or none, whichever way they concluded — assigned, and then it would be up to the administration of the estate through the Public Trustee to properly respond to those claims within the limits of the amount of assets available,” MacKay said.
“It might be that if the total claims exceed the amount of the estate, that none of them are going to get precisely what they had claimed, but we don’t know that. There are some indications that the size of the estate might be fairly large.”
In their class-action suit filed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in May of this year, families of 21 of the 22 victims of the April massacre, as well as seven individuals who were wounded, sought damages against the estate of Wortman, the Atlantic Denture clinic and two other companies he owned. That suit specifically excluded his common-law spouse from participating.
Lawyer Robert Pineo said at the time the exclusion was because, as Wortman’s common-law partner and possible inheritor of some of Wortman’s assets, she might have a conflict of interest — not because she was not also a victim.
Pineo said he anticipated the common-law’s pending lawsuit, and he was not surprised.
“What her and her lawyer are going to do is they will be seeking to consolidate her action with the class actions so they are heard together,” Pineo said.
“So basically, she’ll ride on the coattails of our case, which legally there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Although he had not yet had a chance to tell the families he represented about the new lawsuit, he said he could guess at their reaction, given that they had not been happy when told in the past that it was a possibility.
“Really, the only ramification will be that it will reduce the amount of money to be distributed amongst the class members, but … they’ll only get a percentage of what’s there. So it’s going to reduce the amount by very little,” he said.