Reply filed in lawsuit after ambulance allegedly runs out of oxygen

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By Calen McKinney

City and EMS officials have denied they are responsible for a local woman’s death, as her husband’s attorney has alleged.

Lebanon attorney Jim Avritt Jr. filed a complaint on behalf of Thomas Ray Shirrell in Taylor Circuit Court on Dec. 29, 2011. City of Campbellsville and the emergency medical service, formerly known as Campbellsville/Taylor County Rescue, are listed as the defendants. The entity is now Campbellsville/Taylor County EMS.

Nearly a year and a half later, on April 11, Jason B. Bell of Elizabethtown filed an answer to the lawsuit on the defendants’ behalf.

The answer comes after the lawsuit was dismissed late last year because no action had been taken in the case, but it was then revived shortly after.

Shirrell alleges local EMS personnel ran out of oxygen while transporting his wife, and that contributed to her death. Shirrell is the administrator of his wife,
Lillie Mae Shirrell’s, estate. According to the complaint, Shirrell died on Jan. 10, 2011.

On Dec. 30, 2010, the complaint states, Shirrell’s wife was being transported from Taylor Regional Hospital to Norton Hospital in Louisville.

During the transfer, Shirrell alleges, EMS personnel provided medical care for his wife, including giving her oxygen.

Shirrell alleges EMS staff ran out of oxygen during the trip, which deviates from the acceptable standards of medical care and was a substantial factor in his wife’s death.

Shirrell is asking for punitive damages and a trial by jury.

According to the answer Bell filed, the defendants deny Shirrell’s allegations and say Mrs. Shirrell’s injuries were caused by her own negligence.

The defendants claim the lawsuit wasn’t filed within the statue of limitations and ask that if they paid the plaintiff any money, it be returned to them.

According to the answer, asking for punitive damages violates the defendants’ due process rights.

Bell asks that Shirrell’s lawsuit be dismissed and the defendants be paid court costs and attorney’s fees.

On Tuesday, Bell said, as policy, he doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Avritt, who could not be reached before press time to comment on the answer Bell filed, said last year he believes Shirrell’s case is a strong one.

He said Shirrell’s wife went to TRH for treatment on Dec. 14, 2010, complaining of a cough, fever, shortness of breath and nausea. She was ultimately diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia.

Mrs. Shirrell’s condition improved some, but then worsened, Avritt said, and on Dec. 30, 2011, it was decided she would be transferred to Louisville. EMS personnel were called to transport Mrs. Shirrell there.

When she left TRH, Avritt said, Mrs. Shirrell was alert, had just eaten breakfast and was oriented.

“She was clearly not someone who was on death’s doorstep,” he said. “They got 10 or 15 miles out of town and the EMS unit runs out of oxygen.”

After running out of oxygen, Avritt said, EMS staff members took Mrs. Shirrell to Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown.

She was stabilized, Avritt said, placed on a ventilator and then transported to Norton. She never woke up, he said, and she died 11 days later.

“Tommy never got the chance to speak to her again,” Avritt said.

Avritt said it was known that Mrs. Shirrell was oxygen-dependant.

“How you run out of oxygen ... I don’t know. That, to me, is gross negligence,” he said. “Which is inexcusable.”

At press time, there are no court dates set in Shirrell’s case.