35-Minute Response to Heart Attack Call Leads to Lawsuit

The family of a 59-year-old man who died of a heart attack has sued the Toronto EMS and the City of Toronto, as well as several individual paramedics and dispatchers. The suit papers seek damages in excess of $10 million Canadian based upon an alleged “unforgivable delay” in the EMS response time.

The ambulance crew arrived at the man’s apartment building 35 minutes after the first 911 call. Witnesses in the apartment building lobby claim that the man turned blue while waiting for the EMS personnel to arrive.

The coroner’s inquest determined that there were three separate 911 calls regarding the man’s heart attack. The call was not upgraded to high priority until the third call. Paramedics who responded to the initial call “staged” their response and waited for police a short distance from the man’s apartment building, allegedly out of fear that the scene might be dangerous.

The lawsuit alleges that the first-response paramedics were negligent in failing to properly assess the safety of the scene and that the Toronto EMS dispatchers failed to properly prioritize the man’s serious condition.

In the wake of criticism from the Ontario Health Ministry surrounding this incident, Toronto EMS has reportedly changed its policy on “staging.” The subsequent change in the staging policy will likely be inadmissible in the wrongful death lawsuit. Most Canadian provinces, like most American states, follow English common law. Under the common law, subsequent remedial measures are generally not admissible to prove negligence at the time of the event in question; this rule promotes the public policy of encouraging remedial measures after an injurious event.

The 35-minute delay here will be difficult to defend. However, the parties in the case will no doubt explore medical causation issues. The plaintiff has to prove not only a breach of the standard of care (in this case, an unreasonable delay in beginning treatment), but also that the breach of the standard of care caused injury or damage. In this situation, that will require proof that the gentleman more likely than not would have survived if treatment had been initiated within a customary, reasonable response time.

I will monitor this case and see how it develops.

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2 Responses to 35-Minute Response to Heart Attack Call Leads to Lawsuit

  1. erik smith says:

    My dad just pasted on new years. It to first responders 15min and ems over 20 my dad choked on some food while eating. The tylertown hospital is about a 12 to 15 minute ride doing the speed limit i made it in about 7and i was maybe 2 min away from hospital when i got the call and i didnt go crazy fast i kept about 80 on hwy speed limit of 55 and my little town i guess only has one ambulance so they called for someone further away and it still dont seem like they could have been in a hurry to get there i mean he was dead when they got there and i just dont understand why they couldnt just tell us every minute that was past he was loosing his chance to live if i would have been called first i could have drove to get him from tylertown and have drove back to hospital in less time then it took them to get there and got lost with only 2 turns once turned off hwy and thats another thing its mostly all hwy to get there i just dont. Understand. Why it to so long and another thing was a friend that was listening to scannersaid he herd they joking about some guy choking and just didnt know at the time that it was my dad they where talking about i just dont understand why it took so long

    • Tony Dalton says:

      I’m very sorry for your loss. It might help give you some piece of mind to sit down with a manager from the EMS service and explain your concerns to them and see if they have any explanation for the response time. If you ask them without being hostile about it (I realize that might not be easy to do), they should be willing to have a manager sit down with you and explain their actions.

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