Putnam EMS named in wrongful death suit

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 29, 2010

WINFIELD –- A Kanawha County woman is alleging paramedics contributed to the death of her infant son when he died en route to the hospital.

Mirna Suarez Dankiewicz filed a wrongful death suit against the Putnam County Emergency Medical Services on Nov. 18 in Putnam Circuit Court. In her complaint, Dankiewicz alleges paramedics were negligent in monitoring the condition of her son, Darby, when he was rushed to the hospital two years ago for breathing problems.

According to the suit, Dankiewicz called 911 on Oct. 31, 2008, to request Darby be transported to the hospital. The suit does not provide specifics as the reason for her call or where she was calling from.

However, at a time not specified, a PCEMS ambulance arrived in response to Dankiewicz's call. They were alerted to the fact Darby, who was nine months old at the time, required the assistance of a tracheostomy tube to breathe.

After Darby was placed on a cot, Dankiewicz alleges "he became blue and began experiencing respiratory distress." After they "'bagged'" and suctioned Darby "'through the trach'" the paramedics then transported him to Cabell-Huntington Hospital's emergency room.

According to the suit, the attending ER physician noted Darby "'appeared lifeless, pale and had no palpable pulse.'" Also, the physician, who is not identified in court records, "discovered that the 'entirety of tracheostomy tube' was lying anterior to the chest wall."

Because he arrived at the hospital in full respiratory distress, the suit maintains the physician, and other hospital staff, immediately began attempts to resuscitate Darby. However, those attempts were unsuccessful.

According to the suit, Darby's cause of death was listed as "asphyxia due to an accident." The physician believed Darby must have been "without ventilation for a period of about thirty minutes" while in the ambulance.

In her suit, Dankiewicz alleges PCEMS was negligent in Darby's death by the paramedics failing to notice his tracheostomy tube became dislodged while en route to Cabell-Huntington. As a result of Darby's death, Dankiewicz alleges she's suffered "mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life."

Dankiewicz seeks unspecified damages, interest and court costs. She is represented by Richard D. Lindsay with the Charleston law firm of Tabor, Lindsay and Associates.

The case is assigned to Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding.

Third wrongful death suit

Dankiewicz's is the third suit accusing PCEMS of wrongful death during this decade.

PCEMS was first sued in 2003 by the estate of Robert Lee Fitch. The suit, filed by Fitch's sister, Delores F. Hetzer, made allegations similar to Dankiewicz's in that after Fitch, an adult male suffered a heart attack in Teays Valley in 2001, he was treated by paramedics, and transported to nearby Putnam General Hospital only to have endotracheal tube he'd bee fitted with become dislodged during transport.

Though hospital staff was able to reinsert the tube and resuscitate him, Fitch was later pronounced brain dead. He died a day later after his family made the decision to remove him from life support.

Records show PCEMS, through its parent agency, the Putnam County Commission, settled the suit in January 2005, agreeing to pay the estate $110,000. Hetzer and her other brother, Roger Fitch, received $56,544.91 with the remaining $42, 815.09 paid to the estate's attorney, John E. Lutz.

Three years later, Angela Wagner filed suit against PCEMS alleging two paramedics contributed to the death of her brother, Arthur Ray Baker. In her suit, Wagner alleged they made Baker, an asthmatic, walk down two flights of stairs before putting him on a stretcher in order to transport him to Putnam General.

Baker, who called 911 on May 3, 2006, complaining of breathing problems, died after his arrival to the hospital as a result of acute respiratory failure due to bronchial asthma.

The suit was settled in April with PCEMS agreeing to pay Baker's estate $85,000. Records show $40,000 went into an annuity for Baker's two children, Zachary and Chelsea, to receive when they each turn 25 with another $10,000 paid to Baker's mother to reimburse her for his funeral expenses.

The remaining $35,000 went to the estate's attorney, Matthew Lindsay, for legal fees, and expenses. Lindsay is with the firm representing Dankiewicz in her suit.

Putnam Circuit Court case number 10-C-387 (Dankiewicz)

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