County denies allegations in Bluffton beating lawsuit

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County denies allegations in Bluffton beating lawsuit

By RENEE DUDLEY rdudley@islandpacket.com 843-706-8138
Published Saturday, January 9, 2010   |  1214 Words  |  news

Beaufort County EMS has denied the allegations in a lawsuit filed in October by Brian Lanese, the Bluffton resident who was severely beaten in his backyard more than a year ago.
The county asks that the suit be dismissed and that its attorneys' fees be paid, according to its answer, filed in Beaufort Nov. 4 and obtained Friday by The Island Packet.
The county's attorneys wrote in the answer that Lanese's injuries "were due to and caused by third parties over whom (EMS) had no control."
It also says that "the care provided to Mr. Lanese met or exceeded the appropriate standard of care and complied with all applicable regulations."
Lanese, 34, was attacked in his backyard just after 9 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2008. He and a friend were grilling steak when three masked suspects burst from the woods and attacked them. One of the attackers hit Lanese in the head with the wooden stock of a pellet rifle. Three Bluffton teens were arrested and charged in the attack.
The treatment he received by the county EMS following that attack prompted questions about the quality of ambulance service in Beaufort County.
The suit filed by Lanese and his wife, Tracy, says that as a result of the county paramedics' actions, Lanese suffered "severe debilitating injuries which resulted in permanent decline, ... emotional distress, anxiety, physical injuries (and) medical bills."
The couple is seeking triple the monetary loss they have incurred since the attack.
Their suit alleges that EMS's care of Lanese caused him further injuries, and that EMS has been negligent with other patients -- allegations the county denies.
Among other things, the suit alleges that Beaufort County EMS failed to:

  • Properly monitor Lanese's physical well-being during treatment.
  • Properly supervise or train the EMS personnel who treated him.
  • Use equipment or medication or take other steps to minimize Lanese's injuries,
  • Have and enforce proper protocols for treating patients like Lanese.
  • Provide ambulance employees with regularly updated manuals on treating head injuries.
    The county also denies those allegations.
    <strong>ALLEGATIONS AND DENIALS</strong>
    When two Beaufort County paramedics arrived following the attack, Lanese was bleeding profusely from a four-inch gash across his right temple. He was speaking incoherently and behaving combatively -- often signs of severe head trauma, according to state EMS protocols.
    The paramedics got out of their ambulance and moved with "no sense of urgency," according to a witness. The suit says they brought no medical equipment inside Lanese's home, such as a stretcher, backboard, cervical collar or oxygen tank.
    The county denies this, according to the answer.
    The county's "EMS Standing Orders" for trauma patients recommend taking equipment "on initial approach" to the patient so time isn't wasted if it is needed later.
    Lanese's neighbor, an off-duty paramedic for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, had rushed over to help. He asked the two Beaufort County paramedics whether they would call LifeStar, a medical helicopter agency, to take Lanese to a trauma hospital in Savannah, according to the suit. They told him LifeStar would not fly a patient behaving combatively, the suit says.
    The county's answer affirms that exchange.
    The paramedics then accused Lanese of being on drugs and drinking alcohol, though his wife told them all he'd had to drink was iced tea, according to the suit.
    In its answer, Beaufort County denies paramedics were told he hadn't been drinking.
    In their Oct. 30, 2008 incident report, the paramedics noted Lanese had been "heavily drinking," though later tests confirmed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system, his wife said.
    The lawsuit says the paramedics refused to touch Lanese. Tracy Lanese and the off-duty Hilton Head paramedic, Adam Hoffman, eventually carried him to the ambulance themselves, according to the suit.
    The county's answer acknowledges that "Mr. Hoffman assisted in carrying Mr. Lanese to the stretcher," but denies that paramedics refused to touch Lanese.
    Hoffman asked repeatedly whether paramedics planned to take the victim to Savannah's Memorial University Medical Center, a top-rated trauma center, instead of Hilton Head Hospital, which is not staffed or equipped to treat trauma cases, the suit says. Each time, the paramedics told him they would take Lanese to Hilton Head Hospital, according to the suit.
    The county denies the paramedics made such statements.
    One of the paramedics told Hoffman that Hoffman had no say in the matter because "beggars can't be choosers," according to the paramedic's own written account of the incident submitted to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control as part of an investigation into Lanese's treatment.
    In its answer to the suit, the county, however, denies that the paramedic made that statement.
    The other paramedic commented that Lanese didn't need to go to a trauma hospital because his injuries "were not that serious," according to the lawsuit.
    The county denies the paramedic made that statement, according to the answer.
    The first paramedic assessed Lanese's head injury as "moderate" and noted his level of consciousness as "alert," although his eyes were swollen shut, he was incoherent and didn't respond to questions, according to incident reports.
    The county's answer acknowledges that the paramedic made those assessments.
    Tracy Lanese and Hoffman ultimately called Hilton Head Hospital's emergency room and spoke to a doctor, who said he would order the ambulance to go to Savannah. The emergency room doctor diverted the ambulance there while it was en route to Hilton Head, according to the suit.
    The county's answer denies that the ambulance had been en route to Hilton Head, though county dispatch records affirm it had been.
    The suit says Lanese was still bleeding when he arrived at the Savannah hospital 35 minutes after leaving his home.
    The county's answer affirms that claim.
    Lanese's injury turned out to be severe. He was in a coma in an intensive care unit for nearly two weeks and underwent several surgeries. He spent a month in the hospital, followed by months of rehabilitation at home.
    <strong>OTHER SUITS PENDING</strong>
    The Laneses' suit is one of at least three filed against Beaufort County EMS in the past 10 months.
    In March, the mother of a 17-year-old Bluffton High School student who died following a prom-night car wreck in May 2008 filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging county paramedics took her son to Hilton Head Hospital instead of a trauma center.
    Last month, the widow of a 65-year-old Bluffton man who suffered a heart attack and died 11 days later filed a negligence and wrongful death suit alleging that an ambulance's delay at an unmanned security gate in her neighborhood led to her husband's death in April. Beaufort County EMS is one of six defendants listed in that suit.
    In December, Beaufort County officials announced plans to hire consultants to review the quality of the county's EMS system.
    Bids from consultants to complete the review are due to the county Friday. County officials said they would like to begin the review by early March.