$5.1 Million Cook County Verdict for Death of Teen – Paramedics at Fault

A Cook County jury returned a $5.1 million verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against a city and its paramedics. The case had initially been dismissed on the basis that the city was immune from such claims. However, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed that ruling and held that the city and its paramedics could be tried under the Illinois Emergency Medical Services Act.

The Illinois wrongful death lawsuit involved a 16 year-old Park Ridge teen whose parents had called 911 after he was found unconscious during the early morning hours. However, by the time the paramedics arrived, the teen was conscious and breathing. While there was later some debate as to whether or not the family denied the need for further services at that time, the end result was that the paramedics left without doing a full assessment of the teen’s condition. Several hours later, his condition further deteriorated and another 911 call was made. However, this time the paramedics did not arrive in time and the teen ended up dying of a drug overdose.

As a result of the teen’s death, the family filed a lawsuit against the City of Park Ridge in which it alleged that its paramedics acted willfully and wantonly by choosing to not correctly assess the extent of the teen’s medical condition. The family maintained that at the time of the first 911 call that the teen should have been transported to a nearby hospital for further treatment.

The courts dismissed the claim after finding that the City of Park Ridge was immune under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act. The Immunity Act bars any liability against a local public entity for failure to evaluate, diagnose or prescribe treatment for an illness or physical condition. Therefore, the City of Park Ridge could not be held responsible for any of its employee’s failure to properly diagnose and treat patients.
The teen’s family appealed this decision to the Illinois Appellate Court, where it was affirmed. However, when it arrived before the Illinois Supreme Court, the decision was reversed on the finding that the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Act was the controlling law and not the Tort Immunity Act. The case was then remanded to the trial court for further handling.

While the Tort Immunity Act provides immunity for a local public entity, the EMS Act does not. Instead, the EMS Act applies to situations where emergency medical services are required, such as in the current case. Therefore, the Supreme Court found that the EMS Act, and not the Tort Immunity Act, was the controlling law since the liability claims involved emergency medical services.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the City of Park Ridge maintained its EMS employees had acted appropriately. At the Cook County wrongful death trial, Park Ridge argued that its paramedics had left the scene without fully evaluating the teen after his father informed the EMS team that they did not want or need their medical assistance. However, if this was in fact the case, then the paramedics should have prepared a “refusal of treatment;” there was no record of this in the teen’s EMS chart. In addition, the EMS team failed to prepare a run sheet for the initial house visit, which would have recorded the time of arrival, time of various treatments, and the time they left.

The plaintiff’s attorneys focused not only on the things left out of the EMS chart, but also on the comments that were there. For example, the EMS staff noted that the teen was in an “altered mental state” when they arrived. According to the EMT’s report, treatment for an individual in an altered mental state includes advance life support and assessment of airway, breathing, and circulation. However, the EMTs failed to provide any treatment during the first 911 call. It was not until the second call, when the teen was already in cardiac arrest, that anything was done. But again, that medical treatment was too late to prevent the teen from dying of anoxic encephalopathy caused by cocaine and opiate intoxication.

The jury’s verdict of $5,187,500 was made up of the following damages:

  • $2,593,750 for loss of society;
  • $1,556,220 for loss of money, goods and services;
  • $778,125 for loss of normal life; and
  • $259,375 for pain and suffering.

The attorneys representing the Estate of J.F. were Frank DiFranco and Lisa A. Jensen.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Roscoe Village, Highland Park, Elgin, Carol Stream, Batavia, Oak Forest, Harvey, and Chicago’s Lincoln Square.

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