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Geraldine Murray and Odis E. Murray (Estate of Odis P. Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad and John F. Kennedy Medical Center

March 30, 2011

GERALDINE MURRAY AND ODIS E. MURRAY (ESTATE OF ODIS P. MURRAY), PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
PLAINFIELD RESCUE SQUAD AND JOHN F. KENNEDY MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, No. L-2604-06.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued October 26, 2010 - Decided

Before Judges Wefing, Baxter and Koblitz.

The opinion of the court was delivered by WEFING, P.J.A.D.

Plaintiffs appeal from trial court orders granting summary judgment to defendants and denying their motion to amend their complaint. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm but not entirely for reasons stated by the trial court.

Plaintiffs' suit is based upon a tragic incident that occurred in the early morning hours of August 4, 2004. Plaintiffs resided in Plainfield with three of their four sons. Shortly after 5:00 a.m., plaintiff Odis E. Murray, who was awake and up, heard gun shots. Using a flashlight, he looked out to the backyard and saw nothing untoward. He then went to the front and saw a man lying in the street. He went out and found his second son, twenty-five-year-old Odis P. Murray, bleeding profusely from his chest. There was a strong odor of gunpowder in the air. He said his son tried to tell him who had shot him. Plaintiff Geraldine Murray was in bed but awake when the shots were fired; she ran out. Seeing her son, she returned to the house to call 9-1-1. She ran back outside, and her husband told her to go inside and get dressed; she did so, anticipating going to the hospital. The Plainfield police responded promptly, as did the Plainfield Rescue Squad. A mobile intensive care unit from John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) was summoned. Throughout this record, that mobile intensive care unit is identified as Mercy 9, a term we shall use throughout this opinion. The parties dispute whether Mercy 9 did in fact respond to the scene. Plaintiffs assert that Mercy 9 never arrived while defendants assert that it did.

After getting dressed and checking on their youngest son, who had been asleep, Geraldine Murray went outside again. She is a registered nurse and works in the intensive care unit of another hospital. She asked why her son had not been intubated and said she got no response but that members of the rescue squad simply looked at her; she described the look as resembling a deer caught in the headlights. A minute or two later, the Plainfield Rescue Squad took her son to the closest hospital, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 6:10 a.m. Both parents said that the only people who responded to the scene were the Plainfield police and rescue squad; they insisted that Mercy 9 was never there.

Later that morning, the Murrays' third son, Akeem, surrendered to the police and admitted that he had shot his brother. The weapon belonged to his father, who had retained it from the years he worked as a Jersey City policeman, and he kept it on a shelf in his closet. The record before us provides no explanation for this incident. Akeem is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence for aggravated manslaughter as a result of this shooting.

On July 31, 2006, plaintiffs filed a four-count complaint, naming the Plainfield Rescue Squad and JFK as defendants. In the first count, they contended that the rescue squad was negligent in the care it provided to their son. In the second count, they alleged that the rescue squad delayed in transporting him to the hospital. In the third count, they contended that Mercy 9 never responded to the repeated calls and in the fourth, that Mercy 9 was negligent in treating their son.

Discovery in this case did not go smoothly, and we decline, at this juncture, to identify any one party as more responsible for this. Suffice it to say we are satisfied that none may escape responsibility for that. Further, we would consider it remiss not to acknowledge the patience displayed by the several trial judges who handled the repeated discovery motions, being clearly aware of and sensitive to the tragic circumstances which generated this litigation. We note merely that the discovery end date was extended a number of times as the litigation progressed.

I

The chronology of the events, as they unfolded, is important to plaintiffs' claim, and we thus set it forth here in some detail. The Plainfield Police Department received several telephone calls of gun shots, and at 5:10 a.m. Officer Craig Kennovin was dispatched, arriving at 5:14 a.m. The Plainfield Rescue Squad was dispatched at 5:15 a.m. Three members responded to the call in the squad's ambulance, Jennifer Medford, Dawn Forte, and Christopher Colatruglio. They arrived at approximately 5:17 a.m. There was deposition testimony that they did not immediately approach the victim but had to wait until the police advised them the area was clear, and it was safe to do so.

The members of the rescue squad were Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). An EMT is defined by statute as one trained in basic life support services. N.J.S.A. 26:2K-39. Basic life support services are defined in N.J.S.A. 26:2K-21(b) as including "patient stabilization, airway clearance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, hemorrhage control [and] initial wound care . . . and other techniques and procedures authorized" by the Commissioner of Health.

A call was also placed to have a mobile intensive care unit, staffed by paramedics, report to the scene. A mobile intensive care unit is "a specialized emergency medical service vehicle staffed by mobile intensive care paramedics . . . and operated for the provision of advanced life support service under the direction of an authorized hospital." N.J.S.A. 26:2K-7.

Paramedics have a higher level of training than EMTs and are certified in advanced life support services. EMTs may only assist a patient to administer specific medications for which the patient has a previous prescription. N.J.A.C. 8:40A-10.1(b)(13). Paramedics, on the other hand, have standing orders authorizing the administration of certain medications depending upon the situation at hand. N.J.A.C. 8:41-7.1 to -7.22. They require authorization from a medical doctor to give medications beyond those within their general scope of authority.

The closest mobile intensive care unit, referred to as Mercy 6, was on another call and thus not available. Mercy 9, based at JFK and approximately six miles from the scene, was the next closest mobile intensive care unit and was dispatched in its stead. At one point there was a request, evidently by the rescue squad, to mobilize Northstar, a medivac helicopter. That request was cancelled by Mercy 9 when it was reported that Murray was in cardiac arrest; according to the record, Northstar will not ...


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