HUNTINGTON – Details of the settlement in a 2007 wrongful death suit filed against the Cabell County Emergency Medical Services squad by the family of a pregnant Huntington woman which officials attempted to keep secret can now be told.
According to information provided The West Virginia Record, the Cabell County Commission, which oversees CCEMS, agreed to settle a wrongful death suit filed by the estates of Kristy and Jayden Crawford for $3.6 million. From that amount, Pamela Prout, Kristy Crawford's sister, received $625,000 as administratrix of Jayden Crawford's estate, and Prout, along with her parents, Kenny and Constance Crawford, split the remaining $3 million, as co-administrators of Kristy's estate.
The information was obtained through a civil action Record contributor Lawrence Smith filed against the Commission in January 2010 to compel release of the settlement details under the state Freedom of Information Act. Smith, who was provided the details in November, filed his suit after the Commission denied his repeated FOIA requests during the previous year.
The settlement is reported to be the largest in Cabell County history.
"I have not seen a settlement like that," said Cabell Circuit Clerk Adell Chandler, who was first elected in 1988. "That's big."
Little or no treatment
According to the Crawford family's suit, Kristy, who was living with Pam and her family in Huntington, had an epileptic seizure the morning of Jan. 4, 2007. Prout called Cabell County 911 at 8:21 a.m. which then dispatched paramedics a minute later.
Two CCEMS paramedics, Frank A. Pierson and J.N. Rimer, arrived at 8:28 a.m. Fifteen minutes after their arrival, Pierson and Rimer determined they could not transport Crawford, who as seven months pregnant and weighed nearly 260 pounds, to the awaiting ambulance by themselves, and radioed Huntington Fire Department for lift assistance.
According to the suit, two minutes later, an unknown number of firefighters arrived. After they provided lift assistance for Crawford, Pierson and Rimer departed Prout's house at 8:59 a.m. for Cabell Huntington Hospital.
However, four minutes later, Crawford, who was 28-years-old at the time, was pronounced dead on arrival. Preparations were then made to save her baby.
At 9:19 a.m. records show Jayden was born weighing 2 pounds and 12 ounces. Due to a lack of oxygenation, he died the next day.
In their suit, the family accused the paramedics of providing little, if any, medical assistance to Kristy. They allege during both during the 30 minutes they were at Prout's house, and the four minutes they took getting to CHH, Pierson and Rimer "failed to properly monitor and treat [Kristy's] condition, including but not limited to failed to monitor vital signs, cardiac rhythm, oxygen saturation and glucose levels, and failed to timely establish intravenous (IV) access, and filed to appropriately and timely suction and otherwise protect [Kristy's] airway."
The suit initially was filed by Prout, who was appointed by the Commission as the administratrix of Kristy and Jayden's estates after their deaths. Kenny and Constance were added as co-plaintiffs in early 2008 after they were appointed as co-administrators of the estates.
Later that summer, the sides agreed to discuss a potential settlement through mediation. It was during mediation that the Crawford family's co-counsel, William Mundy with the Huntington law firm of Mundy and Nelson, made pointed allegations against the paramedics of potential criminal misconduct.
In the mediation statement submitted to Charleston attorney Tom Flaherty, the mediator, and obtained by The Record, Mundy said "[t]his is one of, if the, most outrageous cases of medical neglect that I have ever seen." He added that all the experts he and Nelson contacted were of the same opinion.
"Every expert that we have had review the case, be it local or national, has expressed their shock, amazement and bewilderment as the lack or care and treatment by Cabell County Emergency Medical Services in this case which resulted in the needless deaths of Kristy Crawford and Jayden Crawford," Mundy said.
Mundy added that in the course of litigating the case it was discovered that Pierson and Rimer violated upwards of 20 advance life support protocols established by the state Office of Emergency Services in their treatment of Crawford. As if that wasn't bad enough, Mundy alleged Pierson and Rimer "lied, altered records and engaged in fraud in an attempt to cover up" their violations of those protocols.
"Moreover," Mundy said, "these paramedics began this cover up and fraud during the four (4) minute transport of Ms. Crawford to Cabell Huntington Hospital when these paramedics falsely reported to Cabell County MedCom Ms. Crawford's medical status."
Furthermore, Mundy offered as evidence a statement made by Dr. William Walker, the medical director for WVOEMS Region 2 as to Pierson and Rimer's gross and wanton neglect of Crawford. During a break in an undated deposition, Walker was overheard telling CCEMS' attorney Lee Murray Hall that "it was his opinion that these paramedics 'ignored' Kristy, and, without a doubt, caused her death and that of her child!"
Coming to conclusion
Eventually, the sides agreed to settle the suit in September 2008. Records show, Judge John C. Cummings, who retired from the bench that year, approved the settlement on Sept. 15.
Included in his order were provisions that the terms remain confidential, and that all documents relating to it be placed under seal. However, the provision sealing the settlement remains a matter of dispute.
When questioned as to who asked for that, Hall said it was the either Mundy or Nelson during the settlement conference. However, when The Record contacted Mundy and Nelson for a comment, Nelson said the opposite.
"That was done by the EMS people," she said. "Why would we care?"
Nevertheless, Cummings' order was the initial reason the Commission cited for refusing to release the settlement details. However, after it was informed of the state Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Gazette v. Withrow, which prohibits government agencies from using confidentiality agreements as an excuse to keep settlements in lawsuits against them secret, the Commission changed its story.
In a letter dated Feb. 5, 2009, then-County Manager Stephen Zoeller said he again conferred with William Watson, the Commission's attorney, who "reviewed the settlement agreement." They could not release the details since "[n]either the County Commission nor CCEMS or any of their representatives executed any settlement agreement...[w]e cannot respond because we are not in possession of what is being sought."
In her Nov. 23 letter providing details of the settlement, Hall also disclosed she was paid by Scottsdale Insurance, the Commission's insurer, $44,671 to defend CCEMS in the wrongful death suit. Also, the Commission agreed to reimburse former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, $2,000 for his legal fees, and expenses in Smith's FOIA suit.
The Record attempted to get a comment from CCEMS Director A. Gordon Merry, concerning the Crawford case, including what's been done to ensure paramedics follow treatment protocols. He was unavailable for comment.
Records provided by the Commission show, as of April 22, Pierson and Rimer were still employed with CCEMS. Both were hired in 2005.
Their starting salary, according to the Commission, was $21,722. Their current salaries are $36, 916 and $36,096, respectively.
Cabell Circuit Court Crawford wrongful death (07-C-841) and Smith FOIA (10-C-1)