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Fla. EMT Sues Family Over Response Injury Claim

ORLANDO -- When firefighters rushed Steuart Baker's mother to the hospital in May 2005, he never expected anyone to sue her.

Elizabeth Baker, now 84, has moved into an assisted-living facility. But her son continues trying to fend off the lawsuit filed against his mother by a firefighter-emergency medical technician with Lake County (Fla.) Fire Rescue.

Jennifer Roland claims she suffered back and neck injuries when the front left wheel of a fire engine broke through the lid of an old septic tank in front of Elizabeth Baker's house in Mount Dora.

The lawsuit, filed a year ago in Circuit Court, seeks unspecified damages of more than $15,000.

From the start, Steuart Baker said, he's been upset that a paramedic would sue a patient.

"Police officers, firemen, paramedics are public servants," he said.

"If I call a paramedic and they hurt themselves they'll sue me? That wasn't how public service was intended."

Roland would not comment on the case. But her attorney, Kim Cullen of Orlando, said that he thought that the paramedic was within her rights to sue.

Baker, a gun-shop owner in Mount Dora, grew up on the property with his parents and brothers, including state Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis. He said no one knew about the septic tank until a fire engine arriving to take his mother to the hospital broke through the lid during an emergency call in March 2005.

The engine had to be pulled out with a tow truck.

After that, Baker said, he filled the tank in with sand himself, and thought the problem was solved. But in her lawsuit, Roland says she was hurt while riding on a fire vehicle that broke through the septic-tank lid on another emergency call two months later.

Steuart Baker is coordinating the family's defense of the suit because his mother is too ill to handle it herself.

Roland's personnel file indicates she has received above-average performance reviews since joining Lake County Fire Rescue in 2001.

The file also contains documents pertaining to Roland's multiple periods of medical leave and light duty since the accident.

Christopher Patton, a spokesman for Lake County government, said that Roland had received worker's compensation benefits, but would not specify how much, citing privacy laws.

Patton said that Roland notified her superiors when she filed the lawsuit, but that they now are looking at the case with more scrutiny.

"They didn't actually view the lawsuit. They didn't understand all of the ramifications that were involved," Patton said.

"Perhaps we're at fault for not investigating what the intentions were in the suit."

Last October, Casselberry police Sgt. Andrea Eichhorn sued the family of then 2-year-old Joey Cosmillo, who fell into a swimming pool, suffering severe brain damage, in January 2007. Eichhorn responded to the scene, slipped in a puddle, fell, and broke a kneecap.

Eichhorn dropped the lawsuit less than two weeks after she filed it, in response to numerous complaints and criticism from the public.

The Casselberry Police Department fired her in December after an internal investigation concluded that she had violated several department policies, including damaging the department's image and filing suit without giving the police chief advance written notice.

Patton would not say whether Lake County Fire Rescue would take action against Roland. But he said that the public shouldn't fear calling 911 because of potential legal ramifications.

"Any time you call 911, there is an expectation that you should be safe and not in harm's way," he said.

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