Wrongful Death - Failure to Diagnose Respiratory Distress
This was a claim for wrongful death on behalf of a 17-year old troubled youth who was an in-patient at a home for troubled youths. The 17-year old plaintiff had been placed in the defendant’s facility as a result of significant emotional problems and drug abuse. The patient had in the year prior to her death shown great improvement in her functioning, motivation and compliance. She was at the time of her death preparing to apply to college and had recently successfully taken the SAT examination.
On the morning of her death in February 2001, a mental health counselor employed by the defendant institution was required to perform observation checks every five minutes to ensure that the plaintiff was safe and secure. On one of those checks, the defendant mental health counselor observed that the plaintiff was having significant respiratory difficulties. Despite seeing the young woman with labored breathing and altered facial coloration, the mental health counselor failed to intervene. Approximately 45 minutes later, a second mental health counselor observed the plaintiff in significant distress and called for assistance. A code blue was called, and emergency resuscitation commenced. Despite these life-saving measures, the patient died.
The basis for the wrongful death claim against the clinic and the mental health worker was the failure of the mental health worker to take action after observing the patient with compromised breathing at approximately 8:30 a.m. Plaintiffs were prepared to present expert testimony from an emergency physician, a cardiologist and a neurologist to the effect that had CPR begun shortly after the first observation of respiratory distress, more likely than not, the plaintiff would have been successfully resuscitated. As a result of the negligence of the mental health worker and the clinic that employed him, the plaintiff died.