A California court recently revived a lawsuit filed by a physician against the police who mistook his stroke for insobriety. The victim claims that the police officers delayed getting him proper and immediate treatment for his stroke and are therefore responsible for the injuries he suffered.
Stroke Symptoms: Missing Obvious Signs of Stroke
This case caught my attention for a number of reasons:
- It is a perfect example of how the critical early warning signs of stroke, clear stroke symptoms, can be mistaken for other ailments; in this case, insobriety.
- The need for all first responders, including police and firefighters, to be aware of the signs of stroke (F.A.S.T) in order to minimize the gap of time between the occurrence of stroke and critical early treatment.
- The details of the ruling by California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals against the police, who claimed that the plaintiff’s failure to properly manage his blood pressure was responsible for damages caused by his stroke and not the actions of the police. But, thats not the important issue. Stroke symptoms should be recognized by all health care providers.
Stroke Symptoms Mistaken for Intoxication
Stroke Symptoms Mistaken for Intoxication.
This last point is interesting, especially considering the background of this case. It seems that the plaintiff, Dr. Mohamad Harb, was driving home from work one evening when he suddenly veered onto the sidewalk. The officers who arrived at the scene didn’t recognize Dr. Harb’s stroke symptoms. Thy had no idea that he was demonstrating stroke symptoms. They didn’t even consider the possibility slurred and disoriented speech were signs of stroke.
One of the police officers called for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived and then left 14 minutes later without Dr. Harb.
The EMT’s who looked at Dr. Harb told the police that he showed no signs of intoxication or drug use and that he needed to be rushed to the hospital. The police sent the ambulance away. The police told the paramedics that they would take Dr. Harb to the hospital themselves.
This fact of the case offers an important lesson about stroke care and treatment, and how unotticed stroke symptoms mistaken for intoxication can go .In most instances getting a stroke victim the hospital by ambulance is a far better option than having anyone, including police officers, drive them. Emergency medical personnel in the ambulance can assess the situation, communicate with doctors back in the hospital to speed up the administration of clot-busting drugs while a patient is in-route. This can preventing severe brain damage.
One of the EMT’s testified that he saw the police conduct two breath tests, neither of which indicated that Dr. Harb was intoxicated. The conclusion reached by the police was that either the test was wrong or that Dr. Harb was on drugs. Finally, another ambulance was called to the scene and Dr. Harb was eventually taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.
Stroke Symptoms: Police Officers Should Know the Signs
Dr. Harb underwent surgery but he is now confined to a wheelchair and requires a nurse assistant to help him with basic life tasks.
Dr. Harb had a history of high blood pressure and a previous stroke, which counsel for the defense argued was the cause of Dr. Harb’s injuries and not the delay in his treatment. They claimed that Dr. Harb had not taken his blood pressure medication and was therefore responsible for his injuries. After considering the evidence the California court ruled against the police with Justice Donald Franson Jr. writing the following:
“We conclude that, where a plaintiff is seeking damages only for the anger or cost of an injury or condition, California will follow the majority view that a plaintiff’s pre-accident conduct cannot constitute comparative negativity when that conduct merely triggers the occasion for aid or medical attention. As a result, defendants who render aid or medical attention cannot reduce their liability for the harm resulting from their tortuous acts and omissions by attributing fault to the plaintiff for causing the injury or condition in the first place.”
Basically, Judge Franson and the California Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled that those who are providing aid or medical attention are not free of liability for harm resulting from “tortuous acts and omissions;” in this case causing critical treatment of Dr. Harb’s stroke to be delayed.
I will continue to follow this case as it now makes its way back into court, where both sides will have an chance to argue the facts of the case before a jury.
This is not the first case of a stroke symptoms being mistaken by police for DUI. In a similar case back in 2008 a man was arrested for driving while under the influence when in fact he was suffering a stroke. Without going into the full details of that particular case, a clear lesson to be drawn from both is that all first responders, including the police should be acutely aware of the stroke symptoms. This point was articulated quite well by the attorney for the defendant, Joseph Ellsworth:
“While the matter is under investigation with regard to a pending civil claim, and it would be unfair to draw conclusions in the press, there is no doubt that law enforcement officers are often the first responders in a wide variety of medical emergencies. One would expect some basic training in the recognition of stroke symptoms. Mr. Scott underwent extensive interviewing, drug recognition testing, his blood pressure was checked, and the paramedics came and went after drawing his blood for evidence to be used against him in court. And still nothing was done.”
Both of these cases, and many more like them, highlight not only the need for better awareness of the signs of stroke, especially among all emergency services, but also the undisputed reality that fast and early treatment of stroke saves lives and reduces the risk of lifelong disabilities.
When there are stroke symptoms, it is urgent to close that critical gap of time between the onset of stroke and treatment, all first responders need to add stroke sign awareness to their set of emergency skills and training because doing so will save lives.
The information posted here on StrokeLaw.com is not to be interpreted as providing legal services or as proposing any form of legal advice. Nor should it be interpreted as offering any form of medical advice. All content is strictly intended for informational purposes only.