In a recent Quebec Human Rights Tribunal decision, four home construction workers were ordered to pay $380,000 in damages for exploiting an elderly homeowner and charging her $174,000 for less than $10,000 worth of work.
The homeowner died in 2017, at the age of 93. She lived alone in a home in the province of Quebec. She never married and had no children. She had two sisters and a niece and nephew, whom she saw infrequently. Her family said she was socially isolated and rarely left her home.
In the last five years of her life, she suffered from medical issues and was diagnosed with dementia.
Beginning in January 2010, when she was 87 years old, the homeowner hired a construction company to perform work in her home. Four workers from the construction company worked on her home in the two years that followed. They would deliver invoices for the work, but no written contracts were signed.
The men slowly gained her confidence by spending time with her and bringing her treats. They would go on to borrow money from the homeowner and often accompany her to the bank to withdraw funds. For instance, one worker borrowed $31,750 from the homeowner with the promise to pay her back, which he never did.
Additionally, over the course of 2010-2011, they billed her for over $174,000 for work that was estimated to only be worth $10,000. For instance, the men charged her $38,000 for the installation of a fence, which was later evaluated to be worth $2,300.
It was estimated, in total, that the homeowner gave the workers more than $244,000 in cash over the course of two years.
On behalf of the homeowner’s estate, the Quebec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (the “Commission”) alleged that from January 2010 to July 2012 the four construction workers compromised the homeowner’s right to protection against the exploitation of the elderly or disabled by taking advantage of her vulnerability to appropriate sums of money belonging to her, contrary to s. 48 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”). The Commission also contended that the workers infringed the homeowner’s right to the safeguard of her dignity without discrimination based on her advanced age or her handicap, thus contravening ss. 4 and 10 of the Charter.
Human Rights Tribunal Decision
After reviewing the evidence, the Tribunal concluded that the workers benefited from the withdrawals made by the homeowner from her bank account in the total amount of $244,350.
The Tribunal found that the workers took advantage of their position of strength to the detriment of the interests of the homeowner, an elderly, disabled and vulnerable person. Therefore, the Tribunal found that the workers compromised the homeowner’s right to protection against exploitation, contrary to s. 48 of the Charter.
The Tribunal further found that by exploiting the homeowner, a vulnerable elderly person, the workers had also infringed on her right to the safeguard of her dignity guaranteed by s. 4 of the Charter.
As a result, the Tribunal ordered the four workers to pay almost $380,000 in property, moral and punitive damages to the homeowner’s estate.
The knowledgeable Calgary construction lawyers and staff at DBH Law understand the complex risks of both multimillion-dollar and smaller construction projects and the expensive disputes that can arise when something goes wrong in all cases. We handle all elements of a construction relationship. We can proactively advise and help draft important documents such as contractor and subcontractor agreements and similar, to make expectations clear and eliminate as much risk as possible. We can also represent you in any litigation or other dispute resolution that may be needed if a dispute arises.
We also represent those seeking to administer an estate, including the location and collection of assets of the estate. Should issues arise requiring litigation, as in the case above, we also represent parties in a variety of estate litigation matters.
The team of professional and experienced construction lawyers at DBH Law have the experience and technical knowledge to provide you with the legal advice needed in the modern construction industry and with respect to estate law matters. We understand the number of moving pieces involved in construction projects and work tirelessly to resolve issues quickly. Contact us online or by phone at 403.252.9937 to discover how we can help you today.