Oregon Fire Department Sued Over COVID Related Death

The family of an Oregon woman who died of COVID in 2020, has filed suit against the fire department and several firefighters claiming their refusal to treat and transport the victim led to her death. Teresa Vaughn died on December 26, 2020, hours after firefighters from the Klamath County Fire District No. 1 suggested her domestic partner drive her to the hospital.

The suit was filed by Vaughn’s brother, Richard Vaughn, Jr., on behalf of her estate, as well as by other family members. It was filed today in US District Court for the District of Oregon alleging civil rights violations, negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. The suit names two chief officers and a number of John Does’ as defendants to be named later.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • In the afternoon of December 26, 2020, Teresa Vaughn felt out of breath after descending the stairs inside the home she shared with her long-term domestic partner, Vivian Kimbol.
  • Kimbol decided that Teresa should go to the hospital, as she had previously been diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • At 4:02 pm Kimbol called 911 and reported that Teresa was having difficulty breathing.
  • She let the dispatcher know that Teresa had tested positive for Covid. KCFD1 responded.
  • Seven minutes later at 4:09 pm a single unit arrived with two paramedics.
  • The taller of the two paramedics came just inside the doorway and stopped.
  • He asked Kimbol, “Where is she?”
  • Kimbol said she was sitting “over there,” and pointed to the couch further into the apartment where Teresa was sitting, looking pale and colorless.
  • “She’s having a hard time breathing,” Kimbol added.
  • But the paramedic didn’t go to Teresa and start taking her vital signs or ask how she was feeling.
  • Instead, the paramedic turned back to Kimbol and asked another question: “Can you take her to the hospital?” Kimbol replied, “Isn’t that your job?”
  • The paramedic responded by then turning to Teresa.
  • His question was the only thing either paramedic said to Teresa before she died.
  • He gestured to Kimbol and said, “Can she take you to the hospital?”
  • Teresa was gasping, struggling to talk. She said “Guess so…”
  • Kimbol commented that apparently, she didn’t have a choice.
  • “What do you want?” The paramedic snapped.
  • Kimbol replied, “For you to do your fucking job.”
  • Then both paramedics walked outside, got into their truck and drove away, clearing the scene by 4:15 p.m., six minutes after they had arrived.
  • They drove away after providing no medical care to Teresa; they did not even wait to make sure Kimbol’s car started.
  • Kimbol began driving toward the hospital, approximately nine minutes away.
  • When Kimbol reached the end of the street Teresa slumped over.
  • Kimbol could see that Teresa wasn’t breathing and couldn’t feel a pulse.
  • Kimbol continued driving with one hand on the steering wheel while trying to do chest compressions on Teresa with the other hand. Teresa arrived at the hospital without a pulse.
  • Over the course of four hours the hospital staff restarted Teresa’s heart and stabilized her with a mechanical ventilator, but her brain had been too damaged from going too long without oxygen during the trip to the hospital.
  • After watching Teresa unconsciously fight for her life for hours, her two brothers and sister were left with the decision of either “pulling the plug” or using machines to keep her alive in a vegetative state.
  • Teresa died with her family at her bedside, at 9:26 pm, December 26, 2020.
  • Teresa’s death was preventable if the paramedics had done their job and checked Teresa’s blood oxygen level, taken her vital signs, and transported her to the hospital with oxygen and medical care available the entire time.
  • Instead, they refused to take her to the hospital, refused to come into her home, refused to take her vital signs, did not check her blood oxygen level, and didn’t even ask her name.
  • The paramedics did not evaluate, diagnose, or transport Teresa in purposeful disregard for her life.

The complaint goes on to criticize the fire department’s internal investigation of the incident, and their refusal to release the results of the investigation. This in turn was alleged to be part of the grounds for the intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress allegations, because:

  • By promising to be transparent with the Vaughn family and provide them with information about what happened to Teresa, including a copy of KCFD1’s investigation report, while never intending to actually give the Vaughns any information at all; instead KCFD1 purposefully and knowingly cited fake and false reasons why it would not provide the promised information to plaintiffs, with full knowledge that doing so would inflict severe emotional distress upon them.
  • As a direct and proximate cause of Defendants’ infliction of emotional distress, plaintiffs, and each of them, has suffered pain, anxiety, fearfulness, worry, depression, sleeplessness, and other severe emotional distress.

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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