Florida FD and County EMS Hit with Wrongful Death Suit

The Niceville Fire and Rescue Department along with Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services have been sued for wrongful death by the estate of a man who died in 2010.

Vincent L. Donathan of Niceville, died on July 6, 2010 after emergency crews who responded to his house decided not to transport him. A police officer who was at the scene and observed the crew’s decisionmaking transported Donathan to the hospital in his cruiser, but apparently Donathan coded and died while enroute.

Besides Niceville Fire and Rescue and Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services, the suit also names Niceville Fire Chief Tommy Mayville, along with Paramedic Caleb Eiriksson and EMT Peggy Marion of Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services.

The facts seem a bit complicated, so here are some of the key allegations in the case [quoting from the complaint so I get them as accurate as possible]:

  • That upon arrival at the decedent’s home; Defendants, Mayville, Eiriksson and Marion found Vincent L. Donathan sitting in his bed in his own feces and unable to respond or speak.
  • Defendant, Marion, advised the City of Niceville Police Officer Joseph Boyles that Defendant Eiriksson wanted him to come inside of Vincent L. Donathan’s home to observe Defendant Eiriksson ‘s request as to whether or not decedent wanted to receive treatment or refuse treatment.
  • At the time Police Officer Boyles entered the room, Defendant Eiriksson was asking decedent if he wanted to receive treatment or refuse treatment. Decedent at no time said yes or no.
  • Next, Defendant Eiriksson grabbed his portable radio from his belt and advised his dispatch that he was getting a “partial refusal” and would be back in service shortly. Defendant Eiriksson instructed the decedent’s room mate John Mutchler, that he needed to sign the refusal for treatment since decedent could not sign it.
  • Defendant Fire Chief Mayville who also observed the interaction between the decedent and Defendant Eiriksson informed decedent and his room mate John Mutchler, not to call unless it was a “real emergency”. The Niceville Fire and Rescue under the supervision of Defendant Fire Chief Mayville also failed to render aid or treatment of any kind after Defendant Eiriksson refused to treat decedent.
  • After the lack of treatment given to the decedent by Defendants Eiriksson, Marion, and Mayville, Officer Joseph Boyles determined that the whole situation did not seem right considering the situation that the decedent was in so he contacted his supervisor and subsequently transported the decedent in his police car to Twin Cities Hospital, Niceville, Florida.
  • Upon arrival at Twin Cities Hospital, Niceville, Florida, it was determined that decedent had coded in the back seat of Officer Boyles police car and the emergency personnel at Twin Cities Hospital began performing CPR and life saving measures.
  • In addition to Defendant Mayville’s statements to the decedent and his room mate, Defendant Eiriksson informed the decedent and his room mate in a joking manner, that they would return if it was an emergency and obviously they would return “if he was dead.”

The suit alleges that defendants “Mayville, Eiriksson and Marion” were guilty of negligence, breach of a duty to render aid, and wilful and wanton disregard for human rights and safety. The suit also claims the Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services and the Niceville Fire and Rescue Department were “negligent in their hiring, training, retention, and supervision of Defendants, Mayville, Eiriksson and Marion”.

Here is a copy of the complaint. Niceville Complaint

More on the story.

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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