Man Bites Dog: Nevada Fire Department and Medics Sued for Not Administering Ketamine

My apologies for the cynical “man bites dog” headline, but given the recent spate of lawsuits claiming the administration of ketamine to patients caused death or serious injury, the irony of a lawsuit just filed in Las Vegas has me shaking my head. The daughter of a man who died inside a Walgreens bathroom with EMS, firefighters, and police on scene, has filed suit claiming their failure to administer ketamine caused his death.

Taylor Sommer filed suit in Clark County District Court on behalf of herself and the estate of her father, Reiner Sommer. The suit names American Medical Response, two AMR medics, and the Clark County Fire Department as defendants. It alleges negligence, gross negligence, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, and negligent retention.

The facts as explained in the complaint:

  • On October 18, 2021, Mr. Sommer was experiencing a medical and/or mental health crisis at 6485 S. Fort Apache Rd., Las Vegas Nevada 89148.
  • Emergency personnel were contacted and Defendants responded to the scene.
  • On or about late August 2023 or early September 2023, Plaintiff received the body cam footage that had previously been withheld from her by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
  • This body cam footage led to the discovery of a potential claim against Defendants EMTs/paramedics.
  • Thereafter, Plaintiff quickly retained an expert witness to determine if the potential claim was valid.
  • Defendants were informed that Mr. Sommer was experiencing a medical and/or mental health crisis.
  • Defendants verbalized their understanding that Mr. Sommer was, at a minimum, having a mental health crisis yet Defendant failed to treat Mr. Sommer accordingly, including but not limited to their delay and ultimate failure to treat, sedate, and transport Mr. Sommer which deviated from the standard of care and Defendants’ own treatment protocols.
  • Mr. Sommer was exhibiting signs/red flags consistent with excited delirium.
  • Defendants all failed to diagnose Mr. Sommer with excited delirium syndrome which deviated from the standard of care.
  • The failure to diagnose excited delirium resulted in a further failure to treat Mr. Sommer, including but not limited to a delay and ultimate failure to sedate and transport Mr. Sommer which deviated from the standard of care and Defendants’ own treatment protocols.
  • Defendants’ affirmative acts and omissions were the direct, proximate, and legal cause of Mr. Sommer’s further injuries and death.
  • Defendants were at the scene of a known serious and dangerous medical/mental health crisis yet they failed to take any precautionary measures after being present for a substantial period of time.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants stopped their evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of Mr. Sommer upon discovering that he was having a mental health crisis and/or excited delirium.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants refused to treat and transport Mr. Sommer based in part upon their subjective prejudices toward Mr. Sommer including his medical/mental health history, history of drug use, and socioeconomic status as opposed to merely a misdiagnosis.
  • In other words, Defendants deemed Mr. Sommer undesirable and unworthy of further care, attention, and treatment which constitutes a willful, intentional, and aggravated act and rises to the level of at least gross negligence.
  • The aggravated conduct and gross negligence of Defendants is evidenced by, amongst other things, the extreme delay and ultimate failure to sedate and treat Mr. Sommer; the extreme delay in transporting Mr. Sommer; the extreme deviation from the standard of care; the extreme deviation from Defendants’ written protocols; and by Defendants standing by and gawking as Ms. Sommer suffered and died a humiliating death on a bathroom floor.
  • If the foregoing were not enough, Defendants also joked and laughed about Mr. Sommer’s suffering.
  • Defendants’ conduct is disturbing, vile, and outside the bounds of acceptable behavior in civilized society.
  • Instead of performing their paid job duties in a reasonable and professional manner, Defendants took sadistic pleasure in Mr. Sommer’s suffering and death.
  • Defendants conduct ensured further harm to Mr. Sommer including his death.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants stopping their evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of Mr. Sommer was willful, intentional, and done with reckless disregard for the probable consequences, including death.
  • Defendants should have recognized the need to sedate Mr. Sommer almost immediately. Instead, there was a lengthy delay.
  • By the time a sedative was obtained, it was too late.
  • According to AMR’s records, Ketamine was available but was never used and went to “waste.”
  • The Ketamine in Defendants’ possession could have and should have been used immediately.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants made no effort to treat or sedate Mr. Sommer until mentioned by responding police officers.
  • That the police officers recognized the need for sedation yet Defendants did not, further highlights the extreme level of negligence by Defendants.
  • Defendants can and should have independently recognized the need for sedation based upon their own protocols, training, experience, and evaluation of Ms. Sommer.

Additional details about the incident are available here at the Las Vegas Review Journal.

One of the take-aways from this and similar suits has to do with the importance of personnel recognizing high-risk incidents. Whenever we are assisting police, or alternatively, whenever we are dealing with patients with an altered mental status that requires the police to assist us, the presence of body cams has to be considered. Off-handed comments, even those made in jest or intended to simply break the tension, may later be misinterpreted to our detriment. Of course, inappropriate behavior will be construed for exactly what it is, and the video recording will make what occurred undeniable. Firefighters have to understand that plaintiffs’ attorneys will be scrutinizing every frame of these videos for anything that can be used to further their cases.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

UPDATE: October 18, 2023 – Here is an article discussing a recently filed ketamine related lawsuit in South Carolina. The article – which appears to be well researched – lists several additional ketamine related lawsuits that have been filed, and the fact that the legislature considered banning the use of ketamine to incapacitate criminal suspects. Fortunately the law was not enacted but imagine the factual questions that would arise about whether a certain person was a criminal suspect or a patient with a behavioral emergency… or both. Here is the article.

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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