After judge releases sentencing reasons, Coyle found liable in civil suit

By Allan Bradbury
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
abradbury@fortfrances.com

The estate of Hermina Fletcher, the victim of convicted nurse Lindsey Coyle, was awarded damages and costs to the tune of $130,000.

Fletcher’s son Melvin and granddaughter Melissa were part of the lawsuit, represented by Douglas Judson of Judson Howie LLP.

According to a release from Judson Howie, Regional Senior Justice Danial Newton made the decision in a default judgement when Coyle offered no defence in the civil suit.

LaVerendrye General Hospital, which falls under the auspices of Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc., was also previously named in the suit but the hospital settled its end of the suit Juson says.

Coyle pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death in August of 2022, and was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary in January 2024.

According to the agreed statement of facts in Coyle’s plea, she was employed as a registered practical nurse at La Verendrye Hospital when she altered Hermina Fletcher’s chart so she could steal morphine for her own personal use. As a result of the changed report, which was left with the increased dosage, Fletcher received two 10 milligram doses of morphine the evening of January 3, 2015.

“Documents filed with the court in support of the Fletchers’ default judgment motion indicate that Riverside had identified discrepancies in hospital narcotics records during Coyle’s shifts,” Judson wrote. “These discrepancies were identified for 58 in-patients, 25 emergency patients, and up to 35 fabricated ‘patients’ that did not exist.”

On Apr. 29 justice Pieter Joubert released his written reasons for Coyle’s sentence.

In his sentencing report Joubert noted several aggravating factors.

The first aggravating factor he mentioned was Coyle’s breach of trust:

“I find that the breach of trust was threefold: Ms. Coyle breached the trust that her immediate victim, Hermina Fletcher, placed in the professional medical staff at La Verendrye Regional Hospital; Ms. Coyle further breached the trust that society places in professional medical staff to provide appropriate medical care when its members become vulnerable and require nursing care; finally, Ms. Coyle breached the trust that her professional colleagues and the staff and executive at the La Verendrye Regional Hospital necessarily placed in her, that she would faithfully discharge her duties with care and responsibility.”

Joubert expounded on each of the three categories in the written decision, before going on to discuss the aggravating circumstances of victim impact:

“I find that the criminal neglect of Ms. Fletcher by Lindsay Coyle, in the context of her professional responsibilities as I have described, amounted to an ‘abuse’…

“I find it also aggravating, therefore, that the person whose life was cut short was by all accounts an integral part of her family and the broader community, a person whom the evidence supports devoted her life to caring for others.

That Ms. Fletcher’s life was cut short when, according to the medical evidence, she appeared on a path of recovery is also aggravating. It makes the case all the more tragic. I find this all to be highly aggravating.”

Joubert also counted among the aggravating factors the impact on other victims including the fact that Hermina Fletcher’s husband died before there was any closure in the case and the other family members noted in their statements that Coyle has harmed their trust in the healthcare system.

The fourth point of aggravation that Joubert raised was Coyle’s continued theft of narcotics.

“I find that the decision-making, actions and neglect by Lindsay Coyle on January 3, 2015. were part of a pattern of behaviour that continued over at least a two-and-a-half-month period. I find the behaviour over that period of time to have been strikingly similar. It involved the repeated falsification by Ms. Coyle of medical admission records, and even the creation of fake patients, in order to access and then steal narcotics for her personal use. In total, it involved repeated falsifications and theft by Ms. Coyle of some 700 mg of morphine and 22 mg of hydromorphone between November 1, 2014, and January 15, 2015, which on many days Ms. Coyle would use [drugs] while at work in quantities that left her caring for patients ‘high as a kite’.”

Joubert also addressed several mitigating factors that lightened the sentence.

“The mitigating factors are the absence of a criminal record; her guilty plea; the evidence of her remorse; some of the personal history and circumstances of Ms. Coyle; some of Ms. Coyle’s post-charge conduct; and the effect of incarceration upon her family,” Joubert wrote.

Joubert wrote that there is precedent for including the lack of a criminal history as a mitigating factor in sentencing:

“Where imprisonment is imposed upon a first offender, the sentence should be as short as possible taking all of the relevant circumstances into account, and it should be tailored to the individual circumstances of the offender and not imposed solely for purposes of general deterrence.”

The effect the sentence would have on Coyle’s family was also taken into account.

“I am sympathetic to the family of Ms. Coyle. The children are young. I find upon the evidence that their mother does indeed play an important role in their lives,” Joubert wrote. “A carceral sentence will undoubtedly have a significant impact upon them, including Ms. Coyle’s fiancée… But sympathy cannot override the requirement that all sentencing considerations must be appropriately weighed, which as I will explain call for a sentence of two years’ imprisonment. The effect of incarceration upon the family remains of great importance … it is a factor that the Court has considered in declining to impose a lengthier term of imprisonment, and in deciding the form of release that will follow Ms. Coyle’s incarceration.”

The final sentence was two years imprisonment, which will be followed by probation which joubert says is for rehabilitation purposes.

“I have carefully weighed the mitigating and aggravating factors, and I have considered the sentencing objectives and principles that apply in Lindsay Coyle’s [case]. I have taken into consideration that Ms. Coyle has a young family, and also my concern that Ms. Coyle be assisted on the path of rehabilitation,” Joubert wrote. “In my view, a fit and proper sentence is a penitentiary sentence of two years. I view the length of the sentence to be justified in light of the very serious offence involved, the aggravating factors, and the heightened moral blameworthiness in the case. A federal sentence is in my view necessary to adequately express denunciation.”

Coyle had filed an appeal of her sentence however, in the release regarding the award in the civil suit Judson notes that Coyle has dropped her appeal.