Delayed Use of Defibrillator A Factor in $950K Settlement

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The widow of a man who died after suffering a heart attack at a fitness center run by the City of Aiken has settled claims against the city and its safety training contractor for $950,000.

Navia Wilhelm alleged that improper training on the use of a defibrillator kept her husband from receiving care that would have saved his life. Had the defibrillator been used sooner and her husband's heartbeat restored, he would not have died, she alleged.

In August 2011 Douglas Wilhelm was playing racquetball when he put his hands on his knees and collapsed. The fitness center staff was notified and 911 was called. Wilhelm was unresponsive when a staff member arrived with a first aid kit and an automated external defibrillator (AED), but no one used the AED until nine or 10 minutes later when EMS arrived.

Upon their arrival, EMS immediately used the AED, administered epinephrine and shocked Wilhelm with the AED again. But it was too late–by the time Wilhelm got to the hospital, he had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he had severe brain injuries. He died on Sept. 26, 2011 from complications from the heart attack.

Navia Wilhelm brought an action against the city of Aiken and First Response Safety Training, the company hired by the city to provide training on the use of the AED and how to perform CPR, for wrongful death and loss of consortium.

The lawsuit alleged that the fitness center employees were not properly trained by First Response and that the city's training manuals were not current with American Health Association (AHA) standards of care. It further alleged that neither First Response nor city employees complied with its own policies and procedures. The city had a written record of an employee requesting more training.

The city of Aiken denied negligence and claimed if negligence was found that First Response was the responsible party, because the city had hired First Response to properly train its employees. First Response claimed that it had properly trained the city employees, but nervousness and stress during the crisis caused them not to use the AED. This case settled for $950,000 at mediation—$50,000 from the city of Aiken and $900,000 from First Response. Also, the city was required to retrain its employees on the proper use of the AED.

Navia Wilhelm's attorney, Mark Clore of the Clore Law Group said the case is a reminder of why proper training and teaching of AED use is so important for health facilities, because it is in these places where people are at greatest risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

Appeared in South Carolina Lawyer Weekly May 8, 2014

"And it is a reminder that if you take charge of an emergency for someone who collapses, you can't claim you ‘did everything you could' when you had an AED beside you but never opened the box to get it out and use it," he said.


Type of action: Negligence

Injuries alleged: Death

Name of case: Navia B. Wilhelm, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Douglas D. Wilhelm v. City of Aiken and First Response Safety Training Inc.

Case no.: 2012CP0201386

County: Aiken

Court: Court of Common Pleas

Attorneys for plaintiff: Mark Clore and E. Vernon Glenn of Clore Law Group, Charleston; J. Olin McDougall II, Beaufort

Attorneys for defendant: Karl Brehmer of Brown & Brehmer, Columbia; William Davidson II and Daniel Plyler of Davidson & Lindemann, Columbia

Mediator: Robin Braithwaite

Amount of settlement: $950,000

Date of settlement: March 18

Plaintiff's experts: Heather Bloom, M.D., cardiology; Kyle McInnes, Ph.D., Sc.D., health and fitness; Tina Nuckols, R.N., emergency medicine

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