Our clients are Drew’s mother and father. They asked that we share this tragic story about what happened to their son so that this does not happen to another family. Because many consumers are not aware of the artificial MICRA caps, they also wanted to bring this harsh reality to the attention of other California consumers. At their request of balancing privacy issues with what happened to their beautiful son, here’s their story…
This is a case brought by our clients, Drew’s parents, for the wrongful death of their son. They allege, among other things, that a local ambulance company and its EMTS negligently restrained and transported Drew in the back of its ambulance resulting in his death. The defendants are the ambulance company and the two EMTs.
The jury trial in this case was set for last Monday. Because there were no available courtrooms in Orange County, the case was continued to July. What you read below is what happened to our clients and their family
After graduating from a local high school as a multisport star athlete and academic All American football player, Drew attended college and during this time, began to experience severe levels of anxiety and depression. Drew’s mom and dad asked him to come home so they could help him and make sure he was safe. Drew did and the family managed the situation as best they could.
One evening, our clients were at the mall holiday shopping. Drew was worried something was going to happen to him and so he called his mom and dad and asked them to come home.
After arriving home our clients’ realized Drew wasn’t there. Worried for his safety, they called 911. About the same time the police arrived at our client’s home, their son returned. Pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code Section 5150 and, at the request of our clients, Drew was taken to a local hospital without incident. At the hospital, Drew was medicated and cooperative.
Around 6 a.m. the following morning, our clients’ received a phone call from a nurse at the hospital advising them that Drew was doing much better and that he would be transported to another hospital that had more beds. When Drew’s father offered to come down to the hospital and help coordinate Drew’s relocation to the new hospital, he was told in no uncertain words by the nurse, “We’ve got it all taken care of.”
Before hanging up the phone, the nurse advised our clients they could visit Drew around 2 pm. that afternoon. Non-emergency interfacility transport was coordinated between the two hospitals with the defendant ambulance company.
The Ambulance EMTs Arrive at the Hospital
The defendant EMTs arrived at the hospital where Drew was located. They met with the nurse in charge who discussed Drew’s condition. She also provided the EMTs with Drew’s medical chart and 5150 documents. The EMTs were told Drew reported hearing evil voices and also having suicidal thoughts of jumping off a bridge. Despite the fact that Drew was not medicated, calm and cooperative, they were advised that Drew continued to be at risk of harming himself. The EMTs were placed on written notice via a checked box on the 5150 documents of this fact.
The EMT’s then went to Drew’s hospital room and found him friendly and cooperative. At their request, Drew stood up, walked over and sat in the gurney in a semi Fowler’s position (reclined position). Drew was taken outside to the ambulance and loaded without incident. After being loaded, the defendants’ applied soft wrist restraints on each of the Drew’s wrists.
EMT #1 rode in the back of the vehicle with Drew who was positioned such that he was looking towards the rear of the vehicle. EMT #1 was seated on a side bench providing him with full view and access to observe Drew and the soft restraints during the transport. Defendant EMT #2 drove the vehicle.
After about 5-10 minutes, the Drew asked EMT #1 to move behind him. EMT #1 complied and moved to the airway seat behind Drew. At all times, Drew was still in the raised Fowler’s position. His body, seatbelts and soft restraints were now blocked from the view of EMT #1.
According to EMT #1, shortly thereafter he observed Drew sit up and slide his feet off of the gurney. After a brief struggle, Drew exited the almost stopped vehicle and ran several times across multiple lanes on one of Southern California’s busiest freeways.
Drew was eventually grabbed by off-duty Orange County Sheriff Deputy. After a minute or two, Drew broke away from the Deputy and was immediately struck and killed by an oncoming truck. To this day, the defendants’ have refused to accept any responsibility for Drew’s death.
The Claim and Litigation
The triable issues in this case are those relating to whether or not the defendants negligently and carelessly restrained, monitored, and transported the decedent. Our clients’ EMT expert believes that the soft restraints should NEVER have come loose and were not applied correctly. Furthermore, had the EMT continued monitoring Drew from the position on the side bench, he would have been able to easily observe and prevent Drew from releasing himself from the soft restraints.
During the defendant EMT’s pre-trial depositions, both admitted they were responsible for Drew’s care and safety during the non-emergency transport.
During their depositions, the EMTs also admitted they were taught that constant observation of a 5150 patient was necessary to protect the patient.
The EMT’s further testified they were taught to sit at the foot of the side bench seat next to a patient such as Drew, so they could maintain a visual observation of the patient and soft restraints.
The EMT’s also admit that they, and not the patient, are in charge and in control of what happens in the back of the vehicle.
When EMT #1 applied the soft restraints to Drew’s wrists, he testified during his deposition that he knew that Drew was a danger to himself. He also testified that he and his partner were in charge of Drew’s safety.
During his deposition, EMT #1 was asked if he would do anything different if he had another chance to do this all over again. He answered under oath, “I would have paid more attention. I would have been on the bench seat.”
Plaintiffs’ expert testified during his deposition and is expected to testify at trial that the defendants failed to properly apply and monitor the Drew’s soft restraints. Furthermore, that EMT #1 and EMT #2 were a team and both were responsible for the safe care and transport of a 5150 patient such as Drew.
These soft restraints should never come undone and this fact alone means that onre or both of the soft restraints were not applied correctly in the first place.
Even the defendants’ EMT expert agreed during his deposition that this was a non-emergency transport. He testified that he is not aware of any information indicating anything other than Drew being “calm” during the transport. He also confirmed that it was the defendants’ job to properly apply the soft restraints to Drew’s wrists and to monitor him during the attempted transport.
A new trial date has been set for July. We’ll let you know what happens.
The defendants dropped the ball in this case and it ended up costing Drew his life. Our hearts go out to our clients and their family. We have done and will continue to do all we can to help them find justice.
The bottom line in this case is that had the soft restraints been properly applied and monitored, Drew would have been safely delivered to the hospital.
Unfortunately, what most consumers are not aware of and something our jurors are not allowed to hear, is the fact that the damages in this case are artificially capped by MICRA (California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act). MICRA artificially caps the non-economic damages in this case to only $250,000.
This law was enacted in 1975 in response to a perceived but later discredited crisis in the rising cost of premiums for medical malpractice insurance. MICRA caps compensation for what are known as “non-economic” damages – including life-altering situations such as the loss of limbs or mobility, severe disfigurement, loss of vision or fertility, ongoing pain, loss of a parent or spouse or child.
It is noted that even after MICRA took effect, the insurance premiums continued to substantially rise. It was only after passage in 1988 of Proposition 103, which gave the state the power to regulate premium increases, that healthcare providers had the assurance they would not be gouged by malpractice insurers.
The way MICRA works is that even if a jury awards our clients substantial damages for their loss of Drew’s love, society and affection (wrongful death damages), after the jury is discharged the trial judge will reduce those damages to the $250,000 limit. This law really doesn’t give the defendants’ any financial incentive to do the right thing and pay the claim. Instead, defendants across the state simply deny these claims and roll the dice with conservative jurors. After all, the worse that can happen is to have their insurance company pay $250,000 on what might otherwise be a multimillion dollar case.