WASHINGTON - The family of a Northeast, D.C. man who died of a heart attack hours after being told by D.C. paramedics that he suffered from acid reflux, is moving ahead with a wrongful death lawsuit against the District.
A judge has ruled that under a new District statute, Edward Givens family can sue.
The 39-year old father of two teenagers died at his home in the 700 block of Division Avenue, NE on December 2, 2008, after paramedics responding to his complaints of chest pains and trouble breathing, told him he had acid reflux and instructed him to take Pepto Bismol.
They did not take him to the hospital.
The family's attorney, William Lightfoot says the case is about justice and accountability.
He says, "Our position is that they treated him improperly. They should have properly diagnosed his impending heart attack and taken him to the hospital."
The lawsuit charges that the city and Dr. James Augustine, the medical director for the District's Fire and Emergency Medical Services, are responsible for the Givens' death, because the paramedic who responded incorrectly interpreted medical data, mishandled documentation of the case and told Givens "that he only needed to take Pepto Bismol."
"It's been hard for everybody in the family," says Givens' mother Lolitha Givens.
The family is seeking $17 million from the District and Dr. Augustine.
So far the District has been fighting the lawsuit.
Lightfoot says, "The city claimed there was longstanding case law that prohibited a person who was injured by emergency personnel from suing."
But that changed in 2006 after the death of New York Times journalist David Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum had been beaten in a mugging, but paramedics thought he was drunk and drove him to a hospital across town. He died 2 days later. His family sued over his care.
Under the Rosenbaum settlement, then Mayor Adrian Fenty promised to improve services in the emergency services department or pay tens of millions of dollars to Rosenbaum's children.
Soon after, the city council passed a statue that paramedics can be held accountable in such cases. The outcome led to a major restructuring of the Emergency Services department.
Lightfoot says, "The issue in the case will be whether or not the paramedic who treated Mr. Givens was properly trained. If he was not properly trained, did the city have notice that he was not properly trained?"
Givens' family says the judge's order moving their wrongful death lawsuit forward sends a message about accountability.
"What we're attempting to do with this lawsuit is to improve the services of the city for everybody," says, Givens' younger brother, Anthony. "Not just for my mother or my brother, for everybody."
Lolitha Givens adds, "I hope justice will be served, and the residents of the District of Columbia get better health care services."
The District conducted an internal investigation and found the paramedics did nothing wrong. The Givens' case heads to court on Friday for litigation dates to be set.