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Pathologist's Error Separates Family

July 26, 2012 permalink

When pathologist Dr Michael Belenky labeled a child's death as non-accidental, an Alberta family lost their other child for two years. When another pathologist reexamined the case, the death was classified as an accident and the family was reunited.



Pathologist denies claims in lawsuit over death of child

Michael Belenky
Former Calgary pathologist Dr. Michael Belenky.
Photograph by: Courtesy, Herald Archive

CALGARY — The former Calgary pathologist being sued for erroneously classifying a toddler’s accidental death as a homicide has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

A statement of defence filed in Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday said Dr. Michael Belenky’s findings in the two-year-old’s death were based on the best evidence available and were backed by his superiors at the time.

“His conduct was at all times reasonable, skilful, careful and proper in every respect and within the standard of practice of a forensic pathologist practicing in the Province of Alberta,” reads the document.

“Even if Dr. Belenky’s conclusion on the manner of death, or on any other aspect of the case, is determined to be incorrect based on additional evidence or otherwise, which is not admitted or denied, this is at most an error in judgment and does not amount to negligence.”

The child’s family is suing Belenky, 48, along with Alberta justice and child welfare officials for $2 million.

One of the allegations in the family’s suit is Belenky’s erroneous finding damaged the family’s reputation, and suspicion over the boy’s death in 2009 led to authorities placing his stepbrother, now five, in foster care for nearly two years.

Child welfare legislation prevents publishing the names of the boy or the four plaintiffs — his stepbrother, his father and his paternal grandparents.

The boy was two years old when he suffered a fatal head injury while being looked after by his stepfather at their Calgary home on April 1, 2009. He died in hospital three days later and his brother was placed in foster care a short time after.

“Dr. Belenky concluded that the child’s death was attributable to blunt head injuries consistent with non-accidental trauma sustained over a period of time and accordingly concluded that the manner of death was ‘homicide,’ ” reads the statement of defence, which adds his supervisor and the chief medical examiner agreed with the finding.

A homicide detective first raised concerns about the case in 2010 after seeing the term “non-accidental” used in a re-port written by Belenky, who was assistant chief medical examiner at the time.

The investigator requested a meeting with Belenky in August 2010 to discuss the terminology.

Documents obtained by the Herald show Alberta Justice terminated Belenky’s contract on Jan. 11, several months before it was due to expire.

In Belenky’s absence, another examiner looked at the case in response to the homicide detective’s questions.

On Jan. 31, Alberta Justice announced a review of all the criminal files handled by Belenky.

Authorities overturned Belenky’s original finding in the toddler’s death and deemed it accidental two months later.

Dr. Anne Sauvageau reviewed the file and concluded the boy probably suffered the fatal head injury falling from furniture.

“Dr. Belenky states that Dr. Sauvageau’s conclusion of accidental death was not supported by the evidence available to Dr. Belenky at the time of the autopsy,” reads the defence document.

Authorities returned the stepbrother to his family in March 2011.

Belenky’s lawyer, Michael Waite, declined to comment because the case remains before the courts.

Source: Calgary Herald