Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Orleans Fire Rescue

The estate of a 52-year-old Cape Code man who died in 2016, has filed a wrongful death suit against the Town of Orleans alleging EMS personnel discontinued resuscitation efforts prematurely, and submitted “false and misleading” reports about the incident.

Duane Mead died on September 13, 2016, one day after being diagnosed with pneumonia. According to the complaint:

  • [At] approximately 4:20 a.m., Duane went to the bathroom and collapsed face down. When he fell, he became lodged between the toilet and the vanity.
  • Duane’s significant other, Inger, heard Duane fall and went to investigate. Inger found Duane mumbling incoherently but conscious.
  • But because of the difference in their size and weight, she was unable to extricate Duane from where he had fallen.
  • Inger immediately called the Town’s emergency services by dialing 9-1-1.
  • At 4:22 a.m., Inger was connected with an emergency dispatcher who informed her that an emergency response team was on its way.

The first to arrive on scene was an Orleans police officer who removed Mead from between the toilet and vanity, and started CPR. When personnel from Orleans Fire & Rescue arrived they took over resuscitation efforts and administered a single dose of Narcan. They also confirmed Mead’s cardiac status was “asystole – do not shock.” The complaint alleges, however, that they did not follow proper Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services, Department of Public Health EMS protocols, failed to administer required medications for asystole, and stopped resuscitation efforts prematurely.

What’s more, the complaint alleges that on-scene personnel misstated key information about the incident to Dr. Peter Bosco, who was serving as medical control at Cape Cod Hospital, in order to secure permission to stop resuscitation. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In their rush to terminate resuscitative efforts, the Town’s EMS personnel made numerous misstatements to Dr. Bosco that they knew, or reasonably should have known, were false.
  • The EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that Duane was last seen responsive by his significant other “around midnight” and that she “came upon him in the bathroom unresponsive this morning.”
  • In fact, Duane’s significant other, Inger, heard Duane fall, found him breathing (and mumbling) at 4:20 a.m. and immediately called 9-1-1.
  • The EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that Duane was found “around” 4:15 a.m. and they had arrived on the scene “around” 4:20 a.m.
  • This statement greatly exaggerated the actual amount of time that the emergency responders, including the police, had been on the scene administering CPR to Duane.
  • The EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that Duane was “cyanotic and mottled with dependent lividity” when the EMS personnel arrived, despite the fact that lividity does not typically occur until several hours after death, and Inger had found Duane mumbling and unconscious merely 30 minutes before the EMS personnel requested permission to terminate resuscitative efforts.
  • The Town’s EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that there was a “prolonged” extrication process.
  • In fact, before the EMS arrived the police had already extracted Duane from where he was wedged in the bathroom, turned him on his back, and begun CPR.
  • Upon information and belief, the EMS personnel had no difficulty in moving Duane from the bathroom to the emergency transport vehicle.
  • Upon information and belief, the Town’s EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that Duane was emitting no lung sounds.
  • The Town’s EMS personnel falsely reported to Dr. Bosco that they had been working “the code” for approximately 25 minutes.
  • Based on these false and misleading statements, Dr. Bosco authorized the EMS personnel to discontinue further life-saving efforts on Duane.

The complaint also references an investigation conducted by the Cape & Islands Emergency Medical Services System, Inc. that concluded

  • “[t]here was a critical treatment and procedural error.”
  • “the patient [Duane Mead] did not meet the criteria for withholding resuscitative efforts” but that the emergency crew nevertheless requested an order to cease resuscitative efforts. the EMS personnel failed to conduct “full ALS resuscitation … for 20 minutes with persistent asystole prior to the request to cease resuscitation.”
  • “Based on the documentation this patient did not receive any Epinephrine. prior to the request to cease resuscitative efforts.”

The suit alleges negligence, gross negligence, and wilful, wanton and reckless conduct on the part of the responders. The suit also seeks injunctive relief ordering the town to formulate a plan to prevent such an occurrence from happen again, because “the Town has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the actions of its EMS personnel and the numerous failures of oversight and supervision evidenced by the failure of the Town, and its Fire and Rescue Department, to conduct a review of the emergency response on September 13, 2016.”

Here is a copy of the complaint filed in Barnstable County Superior Court.

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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