Suit Claims Failure to Take Spinal Precautions Resulted in Quadriplegia

The Santa Monica Fire Department is being sued for malpractice for the care provided to a man injured in a fall last year. Baldev Devgan and Manju Devgan filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging Santa Monica firefighters failed to take proper spinal precautions following Baldev’s fall.

The suit names the City of Santa Monica, the fire department, ten unnamed Doe firefighter-EMT defendants, and forty otherwise unidentified Doe defendants. Baldev reportedly suffered head and neck injuries in the fall, and complaint alleges the lack of spinal precautions resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. Relevant to the allegations, both Baldev and Manju are medical doctors who claim their concerns were ignored.

As explained in the complaint:

  • On or about April 27, 2022 at approximately 5:00 a.m., Plaintiff BALDEV suffered a ground level fall whereby he fell and hit his head on the bathtub, in a second floor bathroom at his home located in the city of Santa Monica, California.
  • Plaintiff MANJU found her husband laying on the floor of the bathroom and called 911. Concerned that he may have sustained serious orthopedic injuries or brain trauma during the fall, Manju did not move him prior to the arrival of SMFD and/or DOES 1-10.
  • Defendant City of Santa Monica’s SMFD, and DOES 1-10 responded to the scene and located BALDEV in the upstairs bathroom.
  • BALDEV was found on the floor, conscious, with his head leaning against the bathtub.
  • SFMD and/or DOES 1-10 entered the bathroom and to assess BALDAV’s condition.
  • MANJU informed the EMTs that she was a medical doctor and stated to the EMTs that they needed to protect and stabilize his neck before moving him because he had hit his head.
  • At all times relevant to this Complaint, MANJU was present, aware of the injury being caused to BALDEV, and was of the belief that BALDEV was being negligently treated and attended to by DEFENDANTS.
  • SMFD and DOES 1-10 responded that they “are professionals and you need to let us do our job” and pushed her out of the way outside of the bathroom there by acting to take control of BALDEV and in doing so, assumed the duty to provide him care in a non- negligent fashion, within a degree and standard of care warranted and called for by the circumstances.
  • In doing so, they prevented MANJU from providing or directing treatment to or for BALDEV MANJU was able to see and witness through the opened door the DEFENDANT’s actions and inactions as they attended to BALDEV, therefore she was aware of what was occurring contemporaneously with the acts and inactions of SMFD and DOES 1- 10 and had a belief that what they were doing and/or failing to do was negligent.
  • The SMFD and/or DOES 1-10 did not put a cervical spine (“c-spine”) immobilization collar onto BALDEV, or otherwise secure and protect his spine and/or other parts of his body and, in direct contravention to MANJU’s warning, moved him, including but not limited to sitting him up and trying to get hm to stand.
  • After physically moving him into a sitting position, they said words to the effect of “he looks ok,” and stated that he was moving all his extremities. They proceeded to sit him in a chair that was in the bathroom, all without taking adequate precautions to stabilize and protect his spine.
  • DEFENDANTS then further picked up and moved BALDEV on to a gurney and began moving him towards the stairs.
  • MANJU observed BALDEV express concern about how he was being moved and no specific precautions were made to protect his spine from further injury by being moved.
  • The EMT/Paramedics subsequently converted the gurney into a sitting position.
  • While in an upright, sitting position, they brought the gurney down a flight of stairs in the house and another outside the house with a bouncing, jarring, motion with each step.
  • With each jarring movement BALDEV was displaying sounds and actions consistent with, and informing the DEFENDANTS of discomfort the movements were causing him.
  • Despite MANJU’s protestations and BALDEV’s distress, they continued to move him in such a fashion.
  • DEFENDANTS then proceeded to convert the position BALDEV from a sitting position into a supine position by physically altering the position of the and loaded him into the ambulance further jarring his person.
  • While in the ambulance, BALDEV informed them that he was uncomfortable and in a lot of pain, including but not limited to his spine, and asked DEFENDANTS to place support around and under him to provide safety and support as the ambulance further was jarring him as it drove down the road.
  • The DEFENDANTS ignored his requests.
  • BALDEV was transported to UC Santa Monica Hospital and was admitted to the Emergency Room where he received a CT Scan.
  • The emergency physicians reported that he had a very serious neck injury, put him into C-spine precautions collar and informed PLAINTIFFS that he needed immediate surgical intervention, that they did not have the resources or facilities to perform the emergency procedures he needed, and arranged for immediate, and emergent, transfer, with full spinal precautions, to UCLA, Ronald Reagan, ER.
  • At Ronald Reagan he was urgently admitted and taken for surgery on his cervical spine. BALDEV’S diagnosis was cervical compression and central spinal cord syndrome injury.
  • As a result of the damage caused by SMFD and DOES 1-10, BALDEV went from being able to move all of his extremities in his home, to being a quadriplegic ever since.

The complaint alleges negligence, elder abuse/neglect, loss of consortium, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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