APNewsBreak: Children sue over snowbound Pa. man’s death despite multiple 911 calls

By Joe Mandak, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

AP: Family sues over Pa. man’s unheeded 911 calls

PITTSBURGH — The children of a man who died after waiting 30 hours for help during a snowstorm despite repeated calls to 911 are suing.

The lawsuit claims the city, the county dispatch center and the various paramedics and emergency medical services brass are responsible for the February death of 50-year-old Curtis Mitchell.

Mitchell died after ambulance crews didn’t reach him despite calling 911 repeatedly over 30 hours as a storm dumped nearly two feet of snow on the city.

One paramedic was fired, and three others were suspended over Mitchell’s death. The lawsuit claims he endured agonizing stomach pain while waiting for help.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams later determined Mitchell died of natural causes — heart disease complicated by a fatty liver — though toxicology tests confirmed that a poor blood supply caused Mitchell’s intestines to swell and likely led to the discomfort he suffered.

Mitchell’s family contends he might have lived had he gotten help sooner in the 51-page lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press. It was being filed Thursday by Mitchell’s children, Theresa Thornton and Jeremiah C. Mitchell in Allegheny County.

The lawsuit claims three ambulance crews couldn’t drive to Mitchell’s home because of snow-clogged roads. But, instead of paramedics walking to Mitchell’s home, the suit said the crews repeatedly insisted he walk at least one block to them and even suggested he take a bus at one point.

The most inflammatory response came from since-fired paramedic Josie Dimon who was recorded on a dispatch tape cursing after Mitchell told 911 operators he was in too much pain to walk down the steps from his home to reach the second ambulance.

“He ain’t (expletive) comin’ down, and I ain’t waiting all day for him. I mean, what the (expletive)? This ain’t no cab service,” Dimon said.

When Mitchell couldn’t walk to the ambulances, the ambulances left. The suit names the city of Pittsburgh; Allegheny County’s Department of Emergency Services; three top EMS officials; Dimon; three EMS supervisors; and a 911 dispatcher.

In addition to the paramedics’ response, the family takes issue with 911 dispatchers who they claim didn’t share information about the previous calls and realize that the situation with Mitchell’s health was escalating.

“It was just a total failure of the system and a lack of training and knowledge by both EMS and 911 people,” the family’s attorney, Alan Perer, told the AP Thursday. “It was just sort of a perfect storm of errors and a tragic failure.”

City Public Safety Director Michael Huss had previously apologized to Mitchell’s family and is not being sued. Huss didn’t immediately return a call for comment Thursday, but has previously said it was up to the paramedics to find a way to reach Mitchell — noting that other paramedics went above and beyond to reach others stranded in the storm.

“We tried to focus on the actual people who, in our opinion, exhibited gross negligence and really willful misconduct,” Perer said. “Some of the actions of the individual employees were really outrageous.”

He called the taxi service comment “totally over the line of human decency.”

Assistant county solicitor Robert Burgoyn said the county doesn’t comment on litigation.

The Pittsburgh Law Department did not immediately respond to comment on an e-mailed copy of the lawsuit, nor did paramedics union president Anthony Weinmann.

Perer and the plaintiffs were planning a news conference on the lawsuit later Thursday morning.

will not be displayed