Minneapolis Fire Sued Over Hypothermia Death

The family of a University of Minnesota freshman who died of hypothermia in 2013 has filed a massive lawsuit against the Minneapolis Fire Department and numerous other agencies accusing them of leaving his body in the elements for an extended period of time rather than taking him to the hospital and rewarming him as required by EMS protocols.

Jacob Anderson died on December 15, 2013 following a night out with friends. His body was found along the banks of the Mississippi River. When fire and EMS arrived, no effort was made to attempt to resuscitate, rewarm or transport Anderson to medical facility.

In a thirteen-count 62-page complaint filed last week in US District Court, William Anderson, Jacob’s father, accuses firefighters and paramedics from Hennepin Healthcare Systems, Inc. of violating their own protocols by doing little more than a momentary examination of Jacob and leaving the scene minutes after arriving. The complaint includes three counts of negligence; three counts of medical negligence; gross negligence; negligence per se for violating federal, state and local law; negligent hiring; vicarious liability; negligent undertaking; wrongful death; and a civil rights violation of denial of live without due process actionable under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Two Minneapolis firefighters, Shana York and Raul Ramos, and a Hennepin paramedic, Daniel Shively, were named personally as defendants.

From the complaint:

  • On the night of December 14, 2013, Jake attended an “Ugly Sweater party” with several other University of Minnesota students. He was seen leaving the party by other attendees at or around 11:15 p.m.
  • Based on information and belief, and for unexplainable reasons, Jake did not return to his dormitory that evening.
  • The temperature outside on the night of December 14, 2013 and early morning of December 15, 2013, was approximately 0º F (zero degrees Fahrenheit). Some reports indicate that the wind chill temperature was -15º F (fifteen degrees below zero).
  • Early on the morning of December 15, 2013, an amateur photographer discovered Jake lying face down, slumped over a metal rail in a remote area near the 10th SE Bridge in Minneapolis on the northeast side of the Mississippi River. His body was discovered near a road that serves as an access to a steam and coal plant. It is unknown how or why Jake arrived at this location.
  • At 8:44 a.m. on December 15, the photographer called 911 Emergency Service. The Minneapolis Police Department (“MPD”), Minneapolis Fire Department (“MFD”), and HCMC Ambulance Services/Emergency Medical Services (“HCMC Ambulance Services” or “EMS”) were all dispatched to the scene.
  • At 8:54 a.m., the Minneapolis Fire Department was first to arrive on the scene.
  • Based upon information and belief, individual defendants Shana D. York, Anthony J. Buda, and Raul A. Ramos were among MFD personnel responding to the scene.
  • According to the MFD’s internal guidelines and protocols, all MFD responders are required to provide ongoing medical treatment to victims until ambulance services personnel arrive on scene.
  • The Minneapolis Fire Department has set forth a Standard Operating Procedure for assessing and treating hypothermia victims in the field.
  • MFD personnel who were on scene knew or should have known that cold weather conditions can lead to moderate to severe cases of survivable hypothermia.
  • The responding MFD officials failed to recognize Jake Anderson as a hypothermia victim, despite the extremely cold outdoor weather conditions in which he was found and his body’s exhibiting known symptoms of severe hypothermia.
  • The responding MFD officials failed to provide medical treatment to Jake Anderson after assessing his body for no more than one minute and thirty seconds before summarily determining that Jake was dead.
  • The correct course of action for MFD responders treating hypothermia victims (according to the Department’s own Patient Care Guidelines, which have been issued with the authority of the Minneapolis City Council and County Ordinance 9 relating to ambulance services) would have been to initiate rescue and warming efforts until the HCMC Ambulance Services/Hennepin EMS team arrived on scene and assumed medical care.
  • MFD Standard Operating Procedure states that MFD personnel may not cancel ambulance response prior to their arrival unless the patient falls within specific parameters; these parameters state that to declare death and cancel EMS, patient must be “Cold in a warm environment” and/or have signs of “obvious mortal trauma.” Obvious mortal trauma is generally considered to be an injury as apparent as a beheading, animal predation, or skin slippage.
  • Jake Anderson was found cold in a cold environment, and as such, MFD should have followed their Patient Care Guidelines for Hypothermia, pursuant to their legal obligation, which instruct that if “no pulse start CPR [and] attach AED” and further instructs that “patient outcome cannot be determined until rewarming is complete.”
  • MFD responders acted contrary to statutory authority and unreasonably under the circumstances when they willfully and deliberatively deviated from the standard protocol for properly assessing and stabilizing hypothermia victims.
  • HCMC Ambulance Services/EMS arrived on scene at 8:56 a.m., one minute and 24 seconds before MFD cancelled EMS at 8:57:24 a.m.
  • In general, when EMS paramedics arrive on the scene, they are considered the highest on-scene medical authority over the MFD. (Minneapolis Fire Department Standard Operating Procedures. Patient Care Guidelines.)
  • Based upon information and belief, the following individual HCMC Ambulance Services personnel responded to the scene where Jake was found: Daniel F. Shively and Anthony A. VanBeusekom (now retired).
  • Based on eye witness reports and on information and belief, EMS paramedics Daniel Shively and Anthony Van Beusekom spent less than two minutes on the scene, which according to a witness, was barely enough time to walk from the ambulance to where Jake was located and back again, let alone examine Jake in any meaningful way.
  • HCMC EMS paramedics did not bother to examine Jake, and did not even do an independent assessment for pulse, breath, or airway ice formation.
  • Jake was suffering from severe hypothermia. Jake was not conscious. He could not advocate for himself, he could not request medical attention. He relied on the MFD, HCMC EMS and MPD to save his life, which they did not do. Instead they summarily pronounced Jake dead, in complete and total contravention of their Standard Operating Procedures, and in particular, their protocol for treating hypothermia victims.
  • EMS paramedics knew or should have known about the dangers and treatment of severe hypothermia during the winter in Minnesota. Indeed, this is where they live and work.
  • On the morning of December 15, 2013, HCMC paramedics fell deplorably below their standard of care by failing to provide any medical treatment to Jake Anderson, knowing that hypothermia victims must receive immediate care upon their arrival to the scene.
  • HCMC Ambulance Services left the scene at 8:58 a.m., just two minutes after arriving on scene at 8:56 a.m.
  • MFD relinquished control of the scene to the MPD. MFD left the scene at 9:02 a.m in yet another act of gross negligence, the MPD waited 1.5 hours before calling the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ’s office. The Medical Examiner’s Investigation Report states that they received notification of the “death” at 10:30 a.m. when MPD Sgt. Karakostas telephoned the Medical Examiner’s office.

Here is a copy of the complaint: anderson-v-minneapolis

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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