Putnam EMS also sued for wrongful death in 2003

By Lawrence Smith | May 13, 2010

HUNTINGTON - Prior to one involving a Winfield man, the Putnam County Commission five years ago agreed to settle a wrongful death suit against the EMS squad filed by the estate of a Kentucky man.

On April 8, the Commission agreed to pay the estate of Arthur Ray Baker $85,000 to settle a wrongful death suit his estate filed against the Commission in 2008. In her suit, Angela Wagner, Baker's sister and the administratrix of his estate, alleged two paramedics contributed to Baker's death in May 2006, when they made him walk down two flights of stairs before putting him on a stretcher to take him to Putnam General Hospital, now CAMC Teays Valley.

Baker, 28, who was an asthmatic, died following his arrival at the hospital as a result of acute respiratory failure due to bronchial asthma. In addition to their failure to properly and timely provide treatment to Baker, Wagner alleges the paramedics "acted as if it was a bother or nuisance to them to have to respond to the emergency call."

Almost 18 months before Baker's death, records show the Commission settled a suit alleging paramedics failed to properly treat a man following a heart attack.

Improper intubation

According to the suit filed in Putnam Circuit Court, Robert Lee Fitch, a resident of Greenup County, Ky., was eating alone at the Applebee's restaurant in Teays Valley on April 16, 2001. After he collapsed due to a heart attack, a call was placed to 911.

At a time not specified, an unknown number of paramedics arrived and treated Fitch. Among other things they "defibrillated and intubated the decedent with an endotracheal tube."

Upon arrival at Putnam General, the suit alleges Fitch's tube became dislodged and his skin started to turn a bluish color. Despite reintubation by PGH staff, and the continued function of his heart, Fitch's doctors informed his family that he was "brain dead."

Following a decision by this family to remove him from life support, Fitch died on April 17, 2001. Delores F. Hetzer, Fitch's sister who was appointed administratrix of his estate a month later, filed suit against the EMS squad on July 25, 2003, alleging his death was a result of the paramedics' failure to properly intubate him following his collapse.

The case was transferred to U.S. District Court on Sept. 17, 2003 on the grounds that the parties are from different states, and the dispute between them would exceed the $75,000 limit in state court. The case was assigned to Judge John D. Copenhaver.

Case settled for $110K

Records show on Jan. 28, 2005, the parties agreed to settle the suit with the Commission paying Fitch's estate $110,000. From that amount, $6,611 went to pay funeral and burial expenses, $23,952.45 to Hetzer, and $32,592.46 to her other brother, Roger Fitch, as a lump sum payment.

An additional $10,000 went into an annuity that would pay Hetzer $5,186 when she reached 68, and Roger $5,381 when he reached 70.

The remaining $42,815.09 went to pay legal fees and expenses incurred by the law firm Hetzer retained, Lutz, Hereford and Riccardi. Specifically, $6,148.09 went to the firm, and $36,667 went to John E. Lutz.

Since then, Lutz has been disbarred from practicing law. The state Supreme Court in November 2008, accepted Lutz's request to voluntarily annul his license in the midst of an investigation he forged former Kanawha Circuit, and now U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger's signature a year earlier to a phony settlement for another client who's case he also helped file in 2003.

In October, Lutz was sentenced to 18 months probation after he plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of purporting to exercise the function of a public official relating to signing Berger's signature to the settlement.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 03-cv-2176

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