Philadelphia Ambulance Locked Door Suit Removed to Federal Court

The wrongful death suit involving a pregnant Philadelphia woman who died in October 2012 after the rear doors on a Philadelphia Fire Department ambulance would not unlock is now in federal court.

Joanne Rodriguez died on October 1, 2012 and her son, Xavier, who was delivered by c-section while CPR was being performed on his mother, suffered permanent injuries. At the time Joanne was 36 weeks into her pregnancy which had been complicated by blood clots and asthma. According to the complaint she felt weak, fell, and was having difficulty breathing prompting a call to 911.

Among the allegations are that two Philadelphia Fire Department paramedics, April Smallwood and Lisa McCall, failed to bring equipment with them into the Rodriguez’s house, failed to promptly diagnose and treat Joanne, failed to promptly package and transport her to the hospital; and that their ambulance, Medic 22, was not properly designed, manufactured and maintained in so far as the rear doors were locked and unable to be opened in a timely manner once they arrived at Temple University Hospital.

The suit was brought by Joanne Rodriguez’s widower, Eriberto Rodriguez, and her mother, Daisy Morales, who now jointly share responsibility for Xavier. The 54 page, 202 paragraph, 16 count complaint was originally filed last January in Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. According to the federal court pleadings the suit was not served on the City of Philadelphia until July 24, 2014, at which point attorneys for the city moved to remove it to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because it includes various Section 1983 civil rights claims.

The defendants include the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Fire Department Emergency Medical Services, April Smallwood, Lisa McCall, TriMark Corp. , VCI Emergency Vehicles Specialists, and Horton Emergency Vehicles,

Here are some quotes from the complaint:

The deliberately indifferent, conscience shocking, intentional, reckless, careless, negligent, willful, and outrageous conduct of Defendants City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Fire Department Emergency Medical Services, Lisa McCall. and/or April Smallwood, acting under color of state law, including…

  • Failing to exercise the standard of skill and care commonly exercised by healthcare providers in like cases;
  • Failing to properly identify and/or treat the conditions of Joanne Rodriguez and her infant, Xavier Rodriguez;
  • Failing to use and consult competent and experienced physicians and healthcare providers in examining, treating and providing medical care to Joanne Rodriguez and her infant, Xavier Rodriguez;
  • Failing to coordinate care with other providers or physicians;
  • Performing inadequate, incomplete, and unreasonable investigation into and assessment of Joanne Rodriguez’s complaints;
  • Failing to timely bring any equipment or an oxygen bag inside the residence during the first entry into the residence;
  • Failing to timely or properly provide thrombolytic therapy;
  • Failing to treat Joanne Rodriguez with heparin or other anticoagulants;
  • Failing to timely and properly assess pulmonary embolism severity;
  • Failing to prevent the cardiac arrest of Joanne Rodriguez;
  • Failing to ensure that baby Xavier Rodriguez continued to receive oxygen during the treatment of Joanne Rodriguez;
  • Failing to timely and properly find alternative means of transporting Joanne Rodriguez out of the ambulance and into the emergency room;
  • Failing to timely and properly open the ambulance doors;
  • Neglect of duty;
  • Failure to perform duties to the best of Defendants’ ability
  • Failing to develop policies regarding the assessment and treatment of pregnant patient complaints;
  • Failing to implement policies regarding the assessment and treatment of pregnant patient complaints;
  • Failing to enforce policies regarding the assessment and treatment of pregnant patient complaints;
  • Engaging in deliberately indifferent and conscience shocking conduct, including, but not limited to, the conduct set forth in the preceding

Relative to the equipment manufacturers and sales entities TriMark Corp., VCI Emergency Vehicles Specialists, and Horton Emergency Vehicles:

Defendants, by their agents, servants, workmen and/or employees are strictly liable under 402A, Restatement of Torts (Second) by:

  • Designing, assembling, manufacturing, selling, supplying, and distributing hardware products, including power lock actuators, door hardware systems, handles, latches, striker bolts, linkages, and/or complete door access systems and door lock mechanisms, in a defective condition;
  • Knowing of prior accidents and lawsuits which alleged hardware products, including power lock actuators, door hardware systems, handles, latches, striker bolts, linkages, and/or complete door access systems and door lock mechanisms, failure and failing to prevent future injuries from occurring in an attempt to reduce designing/production costs and increase Defendants’ profits;
  • Failing to adequately and properly test said ambulance/Medic Unit 22 and/or hardware products, including power lock actuators, door hardware systems, handles, latches, striker bolts, linkages, and/or complete door access systems and door lock mechanisms, after its design and/or assembly;
  • Acting in disregard of a foreseeable and foreseen risk that users would be injured by the failure of the hardware products, including power lock actuators, door hardware systems, handles, latches, striker bolts, linkages and/or complete door access systems and door lock mechanisms …

Here is a copy of the complaint:  Rodriguez v Philadelphia

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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