Lawsuit Filed Against Two Fire Departments Over Alcohol Related Death

Two Nebraska Fire Departments are facing a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who died while in police custody with a blood alcohol level of 0.34 percent.

The family of Danielle Renee Harbison filed suit yesterday in US District Court for the District of Nebraska naming the Bellevue Fire Department, Bellevue Fire Chief Perry Guido, and Papillion Fire and Rescue as well as Sarpy County, the Sarpy County Sherriff, and the Bellevue Police Department. Harbison died in 2018 after being arrested for DWI. She was 37-years old.

As explained in the complaint:

  • Bellevue Police found Danielle Renee Harbison slumped behind the wheel of her truck on the evening of June 23, 2018.
  • Bellevue Police found Danielle Renee Harbison in near proximity to a health care facility.
  • Bellevue Fire Department rescue unit came to the scene to attempt to evaluate Danielle Renee Harbison.
  • Bellevue Fire Department rescue unit did not provide Ms. Harbison with any medical care.
  • Bellevue Fire Department rescue unit did not transport Ms. Harbison to any health or medical care facility for any treatment.
  • Bellevue Fire Department rescue unit did not properly evaluate Ms. Harbison for any medical issue or life threatening health issue.
  • Bellevue Police placed Ms. Harbison under arrest.
  • Bellevue Police placed Ms. Harbison transported Ms. Harbison to the Sarpy County Jail where she was booked into custody.
  • Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies questioned their supervisor as to whether Danielle Renee Harbison’s blood alcohol content was too high to accept her into custody and whether or not she should instead receive medical attention.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputy supervisor informed them that there was no cut off and to place Danielle Renee Harbison in a jail cell in their custody.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies on staff placed Danielle Renee Harbison in a jail cell alone.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies did not medically evaluate Danielle Renee Harbison.
  • Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies questioned their supervisor as to whether Danielle Renee Harbison’s blood alcohol content was too high to accept her into custody and whether or not she should instead receive medical attention.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputy supervisor informed them that there was no cut off and to place Danielle Renee Harbison, decedent in a jail cell in their custody.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies on staff placed Danielle Renee Harbison, decedent, in a jail cell alone.
  • The Sarpy County Sheriff Deputies did not medically evaluate Danielle Renee Harbison.
  • Danielle Renee Harbison was wrongly arrested by the Bellevue Police Department while she was attempting to receive medical treatment at the Bellevue Medical Center, was deprived of medical attention and treatment by the Bellevue Fire Department, was wrongly arrested, wrongly booked, wrongly placed into custody, and placed improperly left unconscious in a jail cell in Sarpy County Jail where she was left unattended and died.
  • Defendants did not have adequate policies or procedures in place to prevent Danielle Renee Harbison’s death.
  • The Bellevue Fire Department inadequately trained and supervised its emt’s which contributed to Danielle Renee Harbison death.
  • The Papillion Fire and Rescue inadequately trained and supervised its emt’s which contributed to Danielle Renee Harbison’s death.
  • The Defendants failed to adopt adequate policies, procedures, and measures that could have prevented Danielle Renee Harbison’s death.

The suit alleges a deprivation of life without due process under 42 USC §1983, negligence, malpractice, and vicarious liability. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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