Lawsuit against SC county, EMS, dispatcher claims negligence

The lawsuit includes accusations of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and intentional infliction of emotional distress


Dede Biles
Aiken Standard, S.C.

Aiken County, its Sheriff's Office and its emergency medical services (EMS) department all are being sued because of how an emergency call was handled two years ago.

Also named as defendants are Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt, Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, a dispatcher identified as Jeannie Turner and "John Does."

The lawsuit includes accusations of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Brothers Jack Roberts and Frank Roberts filed the legal action on May 9 in the Court of Common Pleas for South Carolina's Second Judicial Circuit.

It since has been removed from that court's jurisdiction and transferred to the Aiken Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

The suit states that Jack Roberts had the power of attorney for his late mother, Barbara.

According to the legal action, Barbara Roberts, who lived in Windsor, began exhibiting symptoms of cardiac arrest while at home on May 6, 2019.

Frank Roberts and his wife, Brenda, also were there.

Frank Roberts called 911 and repeatedly told Turner that his mother was suffering from "cardiac arrest," the suit states.

According to the legal action, Turner was "rude and confrontational and seemed annoyed and frustrated that Frank Roberts was insisting his call be categorized as a cardiac arrest."

Turner "hung up on Frank Roberts within 1 minute and 12 seconds of his call" and didn't "obtain all relevant information," the suit states.

After the call ended, "defendants' cameras displayed Turner bragging to other dispatchers that 'I hung up on him' and proclaiming that 'she did not have time for that,' according to the legal action.

Turner then "improperly, intentionally and with actual malice improperly coded the call as a report of 'chest pain,' " the suit states.

As a result, according to the legal action, "only one Aiken EMS unit was sent to the residence, which was inadequate because Mrs. (Barbara) Roberts' condition required two units or at least three EMTs (emergency medical technicians) or paramedics."

Turner's "improper dispatch," the suit claims, was the reason why EMS personnel arrived "without vital information, proper equipment and insufficient resources to properly care for" Barbara Roberts.

The EMS worker who treated Roberts before she was transported to the hospital "did not act urgently" and "failed to bring equipment necessary to treat her" into her home, according to the legal action.

That person had to return to the ambulance "to gather additional equipment," the suit states, and "took approximately 17 minutes to complete industry standard life-saving techniques that should have only taken six to nine minutes to complete."

As a result of "the delay caused by the negligence, gross negligence (and the) intentional, malicious, willful, wanton and reckless conduct of defendants," according to the legal action, " Frank Roberts and Mrs. (Barbara) Roberts suffered severe injuries and harm, including, but not limited to, an anoxic brain injury."

In addition, Aiken County, Hunt and the Sherriff's Office, the county' EMS department and Killian were "grossly negligent" because of their failure to supervise, train, intervene and retain employees, the suit claims. And that led to "state created danger."

The plaintiffs' "constitutionally guaranteed rights" at the federal level and their state civil rights were violated, according to the legal action.

At the time the 911 call occurred, Aiken County had a high employee turnover rate, "insufficient resources and inadequate 911 dispatchers and EMS personnel," the suit claims.

The defendants "failed and refused to address" the problems, according to the legal action.

The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, damages and compensation for legal expenses.

Barbara Roberts died this year on June 5 at a rehabilitation and health care center. She was 74.

When contacted by the Aiken Standard, Killian said, "I do not comment on litigation that is pending."

In a text message to the Aiken Standard, Capt. Eric Abdullah with the Sheriff's Office wrote, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

The Aiken Standard was unable to contact the defendants' attorney, Robert D. Garfield, who filed an answer to the lawsuit on June 15 that denied many of its allegations and asked for the legal action to be dismissed because it "fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."

Chace Hawk, the attorney for the plaintiffs, didn't return a call from the Aiken Standard before this story's publication deadline.

Aiken County recently has increased pay and taken other steps to hire and retain employees in its emergency medical services department.

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(c)2021 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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