Florida Suit Alleges Slow-Understaffed Response Led to Death

The estate of a man who died on Little Gasparilla Island in 2019 has filed suit against the Little Gasparilla Island Fire and Rescue and Charlotte County alleging negligence and wrongful death. Jaimee Thompson filed suit in Charlotte County Circuit Court on behalf of the estate of her deceased husband, Craig Thompson.

Craig Thompson died on September 20, 2019 after suffering an undisclosed medical emergency. The suit claims the fire department as well as Charlotte County breached it duties to Thompson by responding too slowly and without adequate staff. Quoting from the complaint:

  • LGIFR did not arrive at the emergency medical scene in less than 8 minutes when the firehouse was no more than 2 minutes away;
  • LGIFR employee showed up at emergency medical scene with his wife and two children on a Kubota ATV with two of the children hanging on the side which slowed down the Kubota and response time;
  • LGIFR utilized a minor to assist with the emergency medical services instead of trained personnel qualified to handle emergencies;
  • LGIFR utilization of the minor during the emergency medical situation ensured that the proper equipment was not timely brought to save the life of Craig Thompson;
  • The wife and daughter of the LGIFR were not employees of LGIFR;
  • LGIFR did not have an “on duty” firefighter/emergency medical technician as required by the Bylaws and contract, instead LGIFR only had an “on call” firefighter/emergency medical technician;
  • LGIFR ignored its protocols and mandates of its own Medical Director as required by the COUNTY contract;
  • LGIFR breached the duties in the Bylaws and COUNTY contract;
  • LGIFR understaffed itself so that it could by a new firehouse breaching its duties under the Bylaws and/or COUNTY contract and/or Medical Director mandates.
  • The understaffing made a slower response time and insufficient personnel for the emergency medical situation.

One of the major issues in the case will likely be whether LGIFR and/or the county owed a legal duty to Thompson. The complaint alleges:

  • Charlotte County Ordinance Article XIII mandates that Charlotte County is to provide fire rescue services to Little Gasparilla Island.
  • Fire service and Emergency Medical Services are of such importance to the community that they are non-delegable.
  • On September 20, 2019 COUNTY had common law duties to use reasonable care, follow national published standards, and not place residents and persons on Little Gasparilla Island within a zone of risk.
  • Prior to September 20, 2019 COUNTY entered into a contract with LGIFR in regard to providing firefighter and emergency medical services for residents and persons on Little Gasparilla Island.
  • The contract outlined the duties of LGIFR and COUNTY. Important provisions within the contract and duties of COUNTY under the contract include but were not limited to:
  • COUNTY pays LGIFR $30,000.00 annually to provide the Emergency Medical and Advanced Life Support services;
  • COUNTY is required to coordinate protocols with LGIFR and the LGIFR Medical Director;
  • COUNTY is responsible for complying with Fla. Stat. §401 and Florida Administrative Code Chapter 64J;
  • LGIFR was to maintain on duty personnel;
  • LGIFR is to promptly respond to all 911 calls;
  • LGIFR is to bring equipment appropriate for first response to a particular emergency;
  • LGIFR is to maintain sufficient personnel necessary to adequately provide services as required under the contract;
  • LGIFR was to operate under medical protocols mandated by LGIFR Medical Director.
  • LGIFR was required to carry insurance with a contractual liability endorsement covering Emergency Medical Services; and
  • LGIFR Bylaws were incorporated as part of the agreement

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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