Sunday, November 10, 2019
ProPublica ran an in-depth story about a case of mistaken identity and the removal of life support.The Wrong Goodbye covers the story of removal of life-support from a patient, after which the family learns that the patient was not in fact their relative. The must-read story offers examples of how and why mis-identification of patients may occur. After writing about the facts and both families, the story turns to the litigation.
“The defendants negligently misinformed the plaintiff that her brother ... was admitted to the hospital in an unconscious state. The defendants negligently misinformed the plaintiff that her brother had died on July 29, 2018. As a result of the defendant’s misinformation and negligent conduct the plaintiff has suffered severe emotional harm and injuries.”
[The hospital] ... did not deny the mix-up, but argued it was not liable for any damages because no member of the Williams family ... had actually been a patient at the hospital. The hospital asked a judge to dismiss the case.
[The] lawsuit was reported in a daily story inside the New York Post on Jan. 27, 2019. It did not report the identity of the person taken off life support, but the story was reproduced on a slew of news websites.
[The widow] found the article on her Facebook feed. It had been aggregated on a website called Dearly.com. She eventually realized the story involved [her husband's] death, that he was the unidentified dead man in the article. Months into her efforts to figure out the details of her husband’s death, she saw in [the attorney], who’d been quoted in the article, someone who might help. Maybe [the attorney] would represent her, too.
She met [the attorney] in his Brooklyn office. He was quite certain she had a case. He was less certain he could represent both families. He arranged for her to call [a member of the other family] to see if everyone was comfortable with the idea....
When the conversation was over, [the attorney] was representing both families.
The article ponders the oversight from the law and various state and federal agencies and the impact this has had on the families. In the epilogue to the article, we are updated
More than a year after her husband’s death [the decedent's spouse] feels deeply frustrated, and increasingly doubtful that her husband’s death will ever be fully explained or that anyone will ever be held accountable. The police have all but stopped speaking to her. [The hospital] seems to have been cleared by the Health Department.
[The widow's] remaining chance at what she wants — a full explanation and punishment if warranted — appears to rest with ... the lawyer....
This summer, a judge in the Bronx rejected [the hospital's] motion to dismiss [the] lawsuit. [The attorney] is eager to start collecting more material in discovery.
. . ..
Read this article, realizing the story has not yet ended. It provides an important teaching point for us with our students.