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Court: AMC not liable for patient’s death

November 5, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer (cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - A mid-level state appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against Adirondack Medical Center, one of its doctors and one of its nurses in the death of a suicidal woman who jumped from the back of an ambulance in 2005.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, in a ruling issued Thursday, affirmed a decision issued last year by Saratoga County State Supreme Court Justice Frank Williams that cleared the hospital, Dr. Edward Frost and nurse Richard Land of any wrongdoing in the death of Kirsten Dumas.

Dumas, of Gansevoort, died as a result of her injuries after intentionally jumping out of the back of an ambulance while it was traveling through Ray Brook on Feb. 4, 2005. She had been admitted to AMC earlier that day after attempting to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge over the Chubb River, adjacent to Lisa G's bar and restaurant, on Sentinel Road in Lake Placid. She was visiting a family friend in Lake Placid at the time.

While at the hospital, court documents state that Dumas tried to taker her life two more times. Dr. Frost, the attending physician that day, ordered Dumas to be transferred to the mental health unit of Glens Falls Hospital, although he didn't direct that Dumas be placed in restraints while being transported.

Land met the ambulance, from Varin's Ambulance Service in Plattsburgh, at the hospital and advised its crew that Dumas had attempted suicide several times. Land said in his deposition that he told them, "This girl means it. She is the one who is going to jump out of your ambulance."

Dumas was placed in the ambulance and secured with standard safety belts across her waist and ankles, and covered with a blanket. An attendant was assigned to ride in the back of the ambulance and watch over her, according to the court documents.

But just several minutes into the ride, Dumas was was able to unlock her safety belts, get up, open the back door of the ambulance and throw herself out of the vehicle. She sustained fatal injuries.

Dumas' family subsequently filed a lawsuit against the ambulance service, the ambulance attendants, AMC, Frost and Land. On the day the trial was scheduled to begin, the Dumas family reached an out-of-court settlement with the ambulance service and the attendants. Laura Jordan, an attorney for the family, declined to say how much money was involved in the settlement when contacted Friday by the Enterprise.

Meanwhile, the case against AMC and its employees moved forward. Attorneys for the Dumas family claimed Frost should have ordered Kirsten to be placed in restraints while traveling in the ambulance.

But after the plaintiffs presented their case, lawyers for the hospital asked Judge Williams for a "directed verdict."

"That's basically asking the judge to not let the case go before a jury, and to have the judge decide it right then and there," Jordan said. "In this case, the judge did decide it right then and there and not in the plaintiff's favor. We definitely did not expect the judge to rule that way."

The judge found that Frost's decision not to order restraints "constituted a choice between two or more medically acceptable courses of action for which no liability could be imposed."

The Dumas family appealed the ruling, but the decision was upheld Thursday by the appellate justices. They noted that Frost knew Dumas suffered from a heart arrhythmia and had to be intubated to help her breathe, conditions that could have been aggravated if she was placed in restraints. Frost had also stated that he decided not to place Dumas in restraints during the ambulance ride because, during her last two-and-a-half hours at the hospital, she had been calm and had not made any suicidal gestures.

"Moreover, Frost rightfully assumed that the ambulance attendants charged with (Dumas') transport would closely monitor her, especially given the warnings they had received from Land regarding her recent suicide attempts," the ruling states. "Therefore, we agree with Supreme Court that Frost's decision not to impose restraints during (Dumas') transfer was a matter of professional judgement for which Frost cannot be held liable."

The judges also noted that Frost, as a nurse, had no authority to order that restraints be used.

Jordan said she and the Dumas family were disappointed with the decision and said the case should have been allowed to go before a jury. She said it's too early to know whether her clients will seek leave to file an appeal with the state's highest court.

The Dumas family was seeking "some accountability" as well as "compensation for the loss of their mother, as she left behind two young children," Jordan said. A specific dollar amount sought from AMC wasn't named in the litigation.

Joe Riccio, a spokesman for Adirondack Health, of which AMC is a partner, said the hospital regrets what happened to Dumas but said the ruling vindicates its staff and "affirms that we were confident we delivered the best possible care for this patient."

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Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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