Court Refuses to Dismiss Ketamine-Related Claims in South Carolina Suit

A US District Court has adopted a magistrate’s recommendation that state law claims brought against a South Carolina paramedic in a ketamine-related wrongful death suit, continue. The suit was filed by the estate of James Claude Britt, Jr., who died on October 30, 2019, several weeks after the September 30, 2019 incident in Charleston County.

As explained in the decision:

  • According to Plaintiff, “a tire on Decedent’s car blew out near the entrance of Snee Farm subdivision located in Mt. Pleasant” on September 30, 2019.
  • Decedent pulled into the neighborhood and parked.
  • At approximately 7:15pm, a Mt. Pleasant Police Department Officer “arrived at Decedent’s location and offered to assist him in changing his tire.”
  • Soon after Officer Burgess began helping Decedent, “multiple additional MPPD police officers arrived at Decedent’s location.”
  • Plaintiff alleges that Officer Burgess then informed Decedent that she was “going to place him under arrest for public intoxication.”
  • Decedent then asked to see Officer Burgess’ supervisor “so that he could explain the situation and avoid being arrested and incarcerated.”
  • After Officer Burgess’ supervisor arrived, “he immediately initiated physical contact with Decedent in an effort to place him in handcuffs and take him into custody.”
  • Plaintiff claims that “[b]elieving he was well within his rights to pull over on private property and change his flat tire Decedent questioned the authority of the police action physically and verbally.”
  • Plaintiff states that multiple officers then “physically overwhelmed Decedent and took him to the ground where they forced Decedent onto his stomach and restrained him by placing him in handcuffs with his arms behind his back and by placing shackles on his legs.”
  • Plaintiff alleges that Decedent then proceeded to tell officers that he could not breathe “more than a dozen times.”
  • Plaintiff claims that Decedent was “visibly and audibly struggling to breathe.”
  • According to Plaintiff, Charleston County EMS unit, Medic 37, and Charleston County Fire Department unit, Squad 504, arrived at the scene at approximately 7:40pm.
  • Plaintiff claims that EMS employees did not perform a medical evaluation of Decedent, but that Decedent continued to struggle to breathe.
  • Plaintiff states “[w]ithout doing any medical evaluation and without assessing whether a medical need exist[ed] whatsoever, Defendant Esdorn instruct[ed] Defendant [Gregory] Carney to get Ketamine… to sedate Decedent.”
  • Plaintiff claims that Decedent was still handcuffed and hog-tied at this time, with his face pressed into the pavement.
  • Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Carney brought a syringe of Ketamine solution over to Decedent.
  • Upon seeing the syringe, Decedent asked what it was.
  • Plaintiff claims that Defendant Carney responded it was “something to make him ‘have a good time.'”
  • According to Plaintiff, Decedent immediately objected and repeatedly said “no, no, no.”
  • Plaintiff claims that Defendant Carney nonetheless “administered a lethal does of Ketamine to Decedent.”
  • After the injection, Plaintiff says that Decedent cried out “I’m going to die!” before repeatedly stating that he could not breathe.
  • Soon after, the Ketamine took effect, Decedent stopped breathing, and Decedent’s heart stopped pumping.
  • Emergency Medical Technicians were able to resuscitate Decedent, but Plaintiff states that he “never regained consciousness and ultimately died on October 16, 2019.”
  • Plaintiff contends that “Defendants’ use of Ketamine constituted an unreasonable and unconstitutional use of force and seizure against Decedent, which directly and proximately caused the deprivation of his right to be free from the use of excessive force as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and . . . Fourteenth Amendment” and that “[a]s a direct and proximate result of Defendants Carney and Esdorn’s unlawful use of force Decedent James Britt suffered serious and catastrophic bodily injuries resulting in his tragic and preventable death.”
  • Plaintiff further claims that “the use of Ketamine by Defendant Carney and Defendant Esdorn constitutes a violation of Decedent’s Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity.”
  • Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Esdorn “knew Defendant Carney was violating Decedent’s constitutional rights” and “had a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm,” but “chose not to act.”
  • In the alternative, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Esdorn ordered Defendant Carney to inject Decedent and/or that he had actual knowledge of Defendant Carney’s violation of Decedent’s constitutional rights but “acquiesced in that violation.”
  • Finally, Plaintiff claims that “[t]he forcible contact by Defendants Carney and Esdorn” was an unlawful assault and battery that directly and proximately caused Decedent’s death, that Decedent suffered conscious pain and suffering, personal injuries, and trauma prior to his death, and that his beneficiaries suffered injuries as a result of his death.

Gregory Carney, the medic at the center of the ketamine administration, sought to have Britt’s state law tort claims dismissed for failure to comply with South Carolina’s medical malpractice act and tort claims act. Last month, Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker refused to do so, concluding Britt’s allegations did not allege malpractice, and were properly pled under irrespective of the tort claims act since they were alleged to be outside the scope of Carney’s official duties.

Last week, the US District Court for the District of South Carolina adopted the magistrate’s decision. Here is a copy of the magistrate’s decision:

Here is a copy of the court decision adopting the magistrate’s decision:

Here is a copy of the original complaint which may fill in some of the gaps in the allegations.

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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