Paramedics who wrongly insisted woman was dead have immunity in civil suit, 6th Circuit says
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati has ruled against the estate of Timesha Beauchamp. The lawsuit alleged that the Beauchamp died from a lack of oxygen after she was placed in a body bag and transported to a funeral home, where an embalmer found her gasping for air. Image from Shutterstock.
A federal appeals court has ruled that emergency medical personnel have qualified immunity in a civil lawsuit alleging that they wrongly insisted that a woman was dead, leading to her subsequent death.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati ruled against the estate of Timesha Beauchamp. The suit alleged that the young woman died from a lack of oxygen after she was placed in a body bag and transported to a funeral home, where an embalmer found her gasping for air.
In a July 26 opinion by Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, the 6th Circuit ruled that the city of Southfield, Michigan, is not liable for any constitutional violation, and the paramedics were entitled to qualified immunity.
Courthouse News Service has coverage.
Beauchamp’s estate had argued that the paramedics were liable under a theory of a state-created danger. But the 6th Circuit said Beauchamp’s estate didn’t prove elements of that theory, which would have required a showing that the paramedics exposed Beauchamp to a “private act of violence.”
The 6th Circuit also rejected an argument that the paramedics were liable because they cut off private sources of rescue without providing an alternative. In Beauchamp’s case, the 6th Circuit said, no private party was prohibited from giving aid.
The appeals court also said the estate had not established municipal liability, which requires a violation of constitutional rights and a policy and custom that caused the violation. The 6th Circuit said the estate alleged inadequate training but did not cite facts to support the theory.
According to allegations cited by the 6th Circuit, Beauchamp’s mother called 911 when she discovered that her daughter wasn’t fully responsive when she went to her room to give her medication. Beauchamp had cerebral palsy.
Emergency medical personnel attempted CPR and ventilation but discontinued their efforts about a half-hour later and pronounced Beauchamp dead. Some medical indicators, including a monitor showing cardiac activity, suggested that Beauchamp was still alive, however.
Beauchamp’s family members told paramedics that they thought that the woman was still alive. The paramedics stuck to their conclusion, saying signs of life were responses to medication. They did not change their conclusion, even after police officers told them that family members saw Beauchamp gasp for air.
A funeral home employee who arrived on the scene informed Beauchamp’s mother that her daughter’s chest was moving, but the mother said the movement was due to medication. Beauchamp was placed in a body bag.
After Beauchamp arrived at the funeral home, the embalmer found that the woman was gasping for air with her eyes open and her chest moving up and down. Beauchamp was taken to the hospital, where doctors determined that she was alive but her brain was injured from a lack of oxygen. Beauchamp remained on a ventilator in a vegetative state until her death about six weeks later.
The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press had coverage of the August 2020 incident. At a news conference after it happened, the Southfield, Michigan, fire chief said Beauchamp may have experienced Lazarus syndrome, in which a person returns to life after receiving CPR.
The case is Linden v. City of Southfield, Michigan.