Tuesday, June 5, 2001
Panel Urges $1.1 Million Payment for Paramedics’ Failure to Treat
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles County should pay more than $1 million to the family of a man who died after paramedics declined to administer CPR, a claims panel recommended yesterday.
Victor Cox Sr. had been pulled by sheriff’s deputies from their patrol car and placed in restraints when county Fire Department paramedics arrived and began to assess Cox’s medical condition.
When Cox responded to their questions with profanity, a paramedic stopped his assessment and monitoring. When Cox stopped breathing, the paramedic declined to give him cardiopulmonary resuscitation until he was placed in an ambulance.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital. An autopsy showed cocaine intoxication and “excited delirium,” a report prepared for the Claims Board said.
The county was sued by Cox’s widow, Zenobia Cox, and his three children. It was Zenobia Cox who had called sheriff’s deputies to their home on the night of Sept. 5, 2000 after a dispute with her husband.
Principal Deputy County Counsel Peter M. Glick recommended that the county settle the claim rather than entering into litigation in order to avoid liability estimated at about $4 million.
“Although the cause of death was found to be excited delirium and cocaine intoxication, a jury is likely to conclude that the paramedic’s failure to immediately provide Victor Cox, Sr. with emergency medical treatment contributed to his death,” Glick said in his case evaluation. “A reasonable settlement at this time will forestall exorbitant litigation costs and a potential reward from a sympathetic jury which, along with attorney’s fees, could well exceed the proposed settlement.”
The Fire Department concurred with the recommended $1.1 million settlement.
The Claims Board also voted to settle a medical negligence lawsuit brought by Elvira Acosta for the injuries she sustained while hospitalized at Olive View/UCLA Medical Center.
Acosta, who suffered severe brain damage as a result of exposure to extremely low levels of oxygen during her recovery at Olive View, will receive $1.2 million if the panel’s recommendation is accepted by the Board of Supervisors.
Discovery already had concluded and 12 days of trial testimony were completed when settlement negotiations recommenced. Talks were launched after county medical experts were unable to state as a medical certainty that Acosta’s injury did not result from an improper injection of a combination of a pain reliever and a tranquilizer.
On Oct. 1, 1996 Acosta underwent surgery at Olive View to repair a damaged portion of the tube carrying urine from the kidney into the bladder on the right side.
The surgery was completed without complication.
Following surgery, it was instructed Acosta be given the narcotic pain reliever Demerol and the tranquilizer Vistaril administered through a syringe and needle inserted directly into a muscle every three hours as needed for pain.
The following day between 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. Acosta complained of excruciating pain and she was given an injection of Demerol and Vistaril at 12:30 p.m.
Five minutes later Acosta complained that she couldn’t breathe and went into cardiopulmonary arrest.
Acosta was resuscitated, but not before she suffered severe brain damage as a result of exposure to the very low levels of oxygen.
The cause of Acosta’s cardiopulmonary arrest has never been determined.
Medical experts for Acosta testified at trial that the timing of her cardiopulmonary arrest was probably a result of an improper injection of Demerol and Vistaril directly into a vein, rather than into the muscle.
County medical experts dispute these assertions, but are unable to state a medical certainty that Acosta’s injury did not result from the improper injection of Demerol and Vistaril, a report by the claims board said.
Acosta currently suffers from severe neurological injury, is unable to walk or communicate, and will require lifetime 24-hour attendant care.
In addition to the $1.2 million settlement recommended for Acosta, the settlement would also include payment of up to for a $670,521.86 Medi-Cal lien, payment of up to $24,890.90 for a second Medi-Cal lien, and lifetime acute medical care for the injury Acosta suffered as a result of the incident.
The recommended settlement still faces a vote by the Board of Supervisors.
The Acosta and Cox recommendations were among 12 made Monday that could result in the county paying out up to $4.98 million. Four settlements were approved outright by the board, but the other eight must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
The Claims Board also voted Monday to accept payment for two settlement proposals for a total of $75,000.