Wash. city approves $175K settlement for wife of deceased man intubated by FD medics

The man's wife filed a federal lawsuit after 11 fire department employees admitted to performing 15 "tube checks" on his body on the floor of the fire station


Denver Pratt
The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The Bellingham City Council unanimously voted Monday night, Aug. 24, to authorize the mayor to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the wife of the deceased man Bellingham Fire Department employees practiced performing endotracheal intubations on in summer 2018.

The council voted to pay $175,000 to Jai Ginn, the wife of Bradley Ginn Sr., to settle the lawsuit and dismiss all claims related to it. Ginn filed the federal lawsuit Aug. 1, 2019, in the Western District of Washington in Seattle alleging that the city of Bellingham, fire department employees and Whatcom County’s Medical Program Director Marvin Wayne violated her civil rights to due process and for tortious interference with a dead body, according to federal court documents.

In the lawsuit, Ginn said she’s suffered severe emotional distress and that her “life is forever changed” as a result of the fire department employees’ conduct. Ginn and Ginn Sr. were married for 34 years. Ginn was seeking personal and punitive damages, the court records show.

On July 31, 2018, 11 fire department employees, including two office workers, admitted to performing 15 intubations, which were commonly referred to as “tube checks,” on the body of Ginn Sr. that was on the floor of Station 1. Ginn Sr. died in a Medic One ambulance while en route to St. Joseph’s hospital, the lawsuit states.

No family members were ever notified or asked for consent for the intubations to be performed on Ginn Sr. He also had a valid do not resuscitate order, which meant no life-saving measures, such as intubation, were to be performed.

Accepted practice

A report by Seattle attorney Sarah I. Hale revealed that “tube checks” were an accepted practice Bellingham Fire paramedics used to meet recertification requirements for their licenses for at least the past 25 years. After patients died, paramedics took out breathing tubes that were usually placed as life-saving measures and quickly re-inserted them to practice the procedure.

The report also found “tube checks” were most commonly performed when the deaths were unlikely to be reviewed by the medical examiner, such as when the patients had active do not resuscitate orders, and occurred in a private setting, such as the back of an ambulance.

Ginn’s lawsuit alleged Wayne, Whatcom’s medical program director, instituted, promoted and participated in the unwritten “tube check” policy. Wayne advocated for performing the intubations in certain circumstances, according to Hale’s report, saying that “if someone is caring for you, you want them to be highly skilled.” The practice “allows ‘us to test and keep up our skills.’”

Wayne has been the director of Whatcom’s medical policy since the 1970s, Ginn’s lawsuit stated. He is state-appointed, operates under its direction and protection, and is certified by the state health department. He’s responsible for establishing EMS protocols and ensures EMTs and paramedics throughout the county are skilled and trained.

Previous claims

Ginn previously filed a claim with the city seeking $15 million in damages over the incident. In late November 2018, the city denied her claim. Ginn Sr.’s son and daughter also filed claims with the city, which were settled in late January 2019 for $150,000 — with $75,000 going to each of them.

Ginn Sr.’s brother, Robert Fox, of California, also filed a federal lawsuit against the city and fire department employees in June 2019. The city responded in late July 2019 denying the claims and asked for a dismissal, federal court records show.

As of April 2020, Fox’s case has been stayed while the Washington State Supreme Court decides whether to review the case and answer the question of whether Fox has legal standing to file a lawsuit and is entitled to damages as a relative of Ginn Sr., as he’s not next of kin, court records show.

Because of these and other settlements, the city has also had to tap a reserve fund for claims and litigation, officials said at Monday’s council meeting.

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©2020 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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