Family Sues After Woman Died Waiting For 2 Hours For Ambulance; Suit Thrown Out Due to Bizarre Technicality

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edReported By: Britt L

In December of 2010, 51-year-old Kathleen Thomas died in a frigid blizzard while waiting two hours for a city ambulance. The unfortunate death of Kathleen caused her family to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, the city says Kathleen’s death is not their problem.

Manhattan judge Justice Margaret Chan threw out the wrongful death lawsuit on the account that Kathleen was unconscious and could not call 911 herself.

“Because Thomas was allegedly unconscious at the time the 911 phone call was made on her behalf, she could not have had any direct contact with the 911 operator,” said Judge Chan’s ruling.

On a cold December night, in 2010, Kathleen’s sister dropped her and her boyfriend off at her apartment. As the couple trampled through the snow, Kathleen slipped twice and told her boyfriend she was having a heart attack.

Kathleen’s boyfriend dialed 911 several times and assured Kathleen that help was on it’s way. After two hours of no response from the ambulance, Kathleen was dead.

Kathleen’s furious family sued the city for negligence over the death. The family argued that Taylor might have took Kathleen to the hospital if he wasn’t sure the ambulance were coming.

Kathleen’s case could have had a fighting chance in court if an “immediate family member” called 911 for her. Kathleen’s boyfriend of 25 years, dialed 911 instead.

The judge goes on to say that there was no “special relationship” between the city and Kathleen, therefore the city can’t be punished for the delay.

Brian O’Dwyer, a top civil lawyer, says this specific law is “very strict, very unjust, but that’s the law.” O’Dwyer was not involved in Kathleen’s case.

Judge Chan’s decision was based on case law dating back to the 1980s. Although this law is still used today, the outdated rule can cause other lawsuits because of the city’s ambulance delays.

A representative for the city law Department says Thomas’ case is “tragic”, however the law is well established.

“It’s very hard to sue the city. There are a lot of places where the city does not perform its duties but the city is excused because people done have the “special relationship.”

The highest state court, the Court of Appeals, said the law is intentionally tough in a 2006 decision.

“Protecting health and safety is one of municipal government’s most important duties. Since municipalities are run by human beings, they sometimes fail in that duty, with harmful, even catastrophic, consequences. When that happens, as a general rule, the municipality is not required to pay damages to the person injured,” in part because the cost would be ‘excessive’,” explained the law.

Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer fighting a similar wrongful death suit, said the law isn’t right.

“Clearly there is legislative action needed to remedy this,” the lawyer concluded.