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Family of man who died while restrained on stretcher gets $875K

The family of a 27-year-old who died from positional asphyxia when secured in a prone position received a settlement from a lawsuit; 5 EMTs involved in the incident were suspended

The Associated Press

MILLVILLE, N.J. — The family of a southern New Jersey man who died of asphyxiation after emergency responders restrained him has won an $875,000 settlement.

Their lawsuit stated that Michael Anthony Burris, of Millville, initially refused medical attention after falling and hitting his head on the porch of his home. Authorities used handcuffs and straps on the 27-year-old Burris before placing him face down on a stretcher, relatives said.

State law requires that any patient “placed in any type of restraint shall be closely monitored to ensure that his or her airway is not compromised in any way.” It also bars emergency responders from placing restrained patients face-down on a stretcher.

According to documents from the state Department of Health and Senior Services, Burris was combative “and placed, in restraints, face-down on the portable litter, carried down a flight of stairs, placed on a wheeled stretcher, and moved to the waiting ambulance.”

By the time Burris reached the ambulance, he had suffered cardiac arrest. An autopsy cited positional asphyxiation as the cause of death, with the medical examiner ruling it a homicide. Prosecutors didn’t file criminal charges, saying culpability could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Burris’ widow and children originally sought $25 million in damages in the 17-count lawsuit, but they settled on March 10 in lieu of a trial. The lawsuit named the city, police department, rescue squad and a Gloucester County hospital as defendants.