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Sixth Circuit Court Rules That Paramedics Who Incorrectly Pronounced Woman Dead Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity

In April 2020, Timesha Beauchamp’s mother called 911 when she found Timesha unresponsive in her room. Emergency personnel attempted CPR and ventilation but ultimately pronounced the 20 year old woman dead, half an hour later. However, Beauchamp’s family told paramedics they thought she was still alive. Some medical indicators, including a monitor showing cardiac activity, suggested that Beauchamp was still alive. The paramedics did not change their conclusion even after police officers told them that family members saw Beauchamp gasp for air.  

After Beauchamp arrived at the funeral home, the embalmer found that the woman was gasping for air with her eyes open. Beauchamp was taken to the hospital, where doctors determined she was still alive. However, her brain was too injured from lack of oxygen. Beauchamp remained on a ventilator in a vegetative state until her death six weeks later. The fire chief claims that Beauchamp may have experienced Lazarus syndrome, in which a person returns to life after receiving CPR.  

Beauchamp’s family sued the City of Southfield, Michigan and the individual emergency medical workers for violating Beauchamp’s constitutional rights. Beauchamp’s estate alleged that her Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights had been violated as the City had been “deliberately indifferent to her serious medical need.” The estate argued that the first responders’ treatment of Beauchamp amount to a “state-created danger” that resulted in “a private act of violence” against Beauchamp.  

A 6th Circuit appeals panel in Cincinnati ruled against the estate. The panel ruled 3-0, in an opinion written by Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, ruled that the City was not liable for any constitutional violation and the paramedics were entitled to qualified immunity. The panel determined that Beauchamp’s estate had failed to prove that the paramedics exposed Beauchamp to a “private act of violence” or that the City had provided inadequate training to paramedics. As to the paramedics, they had not prohibited any other private party from rendering aid, and had only (incorrectly) pronounced Beauchamp dead.  

Paramedics Treating Someone in the StreetWhy Does Qualified Immunity Exist?

Qualified immunity is the doctrine that government agents are shielded from liability for damages resulting from their actions as long as those actions do not violate established law or constitutional rights. Qualified immunity has become controversial in recent years; qualified immunity has shielded police officers from lawsuits regarding wrongful death suits.  

Government officials are often personally immune from authorized acts they take while in and during office. Senators cannot be sued for what they say during a congressional debate and judges cannot be sued for ruling a certain way in a case. This immunity stems from two rationales: 1. To keep duplicative wasteful lawsuits from being filed against every individual government actor and 2. There is often another process to reverse a government policy. The proper response to a Senator’s poor conduct is for his or her constituents to vote in a different Senator. The proper response to a judge’s poor decision is to file an appeal.  

However, individual government bureaucrat employees like police officers or paramedics cannot be voted out nor can their decisions be appealed. They can be fired, but public unions have kept even the worst actors from termination. Not surprisingly, public pressure is mounting to hold government actors accountable even though the Supreme Court extended qualified immunity to them years ago.  

Beauchamp’s family is only the latest claimant in a long line of Americans who have been harmed by government employees. Faith in government has eroded to all time low. Restoring even a degree of accountability would go a long way towards reversing the lack of faith.  

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Wrongful Death Claim?

If a loved one has died because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you should contact a skilled personal injury attorney. They will be able to determine whether you have a valid claim, what the laws of your state are that pertain to the action, and can represent you in court. 


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