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October 7, 2009

Old defibrillator batteries lead to $3.2 million Chicago death settlement

By Fran Spielman
The Chicago Sun-Times

The Daily '1,2,3' Comes Before ABC

By David Givot

Every EMS provider from Maine to Maui knows that patient care always begins with the ABC's. Airway, Breathing, and Circulation are what we do. If we cannot provide any one of those for someone in need, the rest is meaningless.

While there is no way to know for sure that a working defibrillator would have made a difference in the patient's outcome, I will bet that the providers responsible would gladly pay $3.2 million for a chance to go back and find out for sure. Instead, they will live the rest of their lives wondering "...what if?"

As an attorney committed to the defense of EMS providers, I offer this little nugget so that you never find yourself in those very uncomfortable shoes: Begin each day with "1, 2, 3."  Three things to check and recheck before each shift are:

1. Are ALL of your batteries charged? This includes defibrillator, pulse-oxymetry, laryngoscope, radios, pagers, and anything else that runs on batteries.

2. Are ALL of your drugs checked? This includes expiration dates, dosages, clarity, color, and that all of the drugs you should have are present and accounted for.

3. Are ALL of your Airway Supplies available? This includes the various basic and advanced airways, stylettes, laryngoscopes, capnography, placement devices, BVMs, and everything else to manage an airway.

Of course you must check EVERYTHING in your ambulance, engine, or squad, to make sure you have what you need to do what you do. But the Daily "1, 2, 3" must remain at the top of your priority list because when it comes to them, there are no second chances.

David is a practicing Defense Attorney in Los Angeles and a former paramedic. Read his columns at The Legal Guardian.

CHICAGO — The family of a 49-year-old man who died of a heart attack after a defibrillator on the Chicago Fire engine sent to resuscitate him did not work — because the batteries hadn't been replaced — will receive $3.2 million under a settlement advanced Monday by a City Council committee.

Frederick Partyka, a stationary engineer who worked for the city, was using a snow blower in front of his home in the 2700 block of North New England when he collapsed on Jan. 22, 2005.

Partyka's son, a paramedic with the Hillside Fire Department, witnessed the incident, called 911 and administered CPR to his father while waiting for help.

When the fire engine arrived at 3:16 p.m., the paramedic found Partyka in ventricular tachycardia, a life-threatening condition.

But when the paramedic attempted to shock Partyka's heart back into rhythm, the defibrillator didn't work, a lawyer for the Partyka family said. The batteries were old and did not hold a charge.

When the old batteries were replaced with spare batteries, the defibrillator powered off again, the lawyer said.

At 3:22 p.m., an ambulance arrived with a working defibrillator. But it was too late. Partyka was already dead.

"The industry standard required — and the manufacturer recommended — that this particular defibrillator battery had to be replaced every two years," said Susan Schwartz, an attorney representing the Partyka family.

"But, on Jan. 22, 2005, no battery had been purchased by the city since October 2000. They didn't properly maintain the batteries for these defibrillators."

During Monday's Finance Committee meeting, First Deputy Corporation Counsel Karen Seimetz told aldermen that the defibrillators used on that day were replaced in March 2005.

The new version uses batteries "automatically changed out with the manufacturer every two years," she said.

"In the thousands and thousands and thousands of times these defibrillators have been used, this is the first known instance where this has ever occurred," she said.

Under questioning from aldermen, Seimetz acknowledged that no one knows whether a working defibrillator would have saved Partyka.

But, she said, "The problem is under the law, if there's any percentage chance that a person could have survived but for the alleged negligence, that's enough to recover [damages].

Even though he had an underlying heart disease, this might have made the difference. There was no damage to the heart on autopsy."

Copyright 2009 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

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