New York Woman Sues Hospital After Terminating Life Support on A Stranger

There is a bizarre torts case in New York city where Shirell Powell is suing St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx after he mistakingly authorized the termination of life support for a stranger. She had been told that the man was her brother, Frederick Williams. The family later found out that it was a Freddy Clarence Williams, who was no relation.

After the man was admitted with brain damage following a drug overdose, the hospital found Shirell Powell name in its records because her brother was previously treated at the hospital. Because of the breathing tube and the swollen features, she assumed that man was her brother — who was actually in a New York jail cell at the time. Family members came in to say goodbye and, while one sister immediately said that it was not her brother, the rest assumed that it was. Powell then approved termination.

Powell told the New York Post that she has lasting trauma from terminating a stranger as well as the belief that she had lost her brother. This including kissing the stranger and holding his hand. One of Frederick William’s two teenage daughters also came in from Virginia to say goodbye and could have a claim.

They pulled life support on July 29th and then the city’s medical examiner discovered the erroneous identification on Aug. 16th.

It makes for a fascinating claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Indeed, the reckless element could allow a claim of intentional infliction. The elements are (1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress.

Balanced against such claims is the conduct of the family in confirming the identity of their loved one. The hospital can claim that it did its due diligence in telling the family that it may have its brother and asking for identification and confirmation. With so little information available, the hospital was trying to establish the identity. Since one sister was able to say that it was not her brother, the hospital can point to the error made by the rest of the family as a contributing or superseding element.

In the meantime, the family has seen their family member who remains very much alive and incarcerated in New York.

8 thoughts on “New York Woman Sues Hospital After Terminating Life Support on A Stranger”

  1. My own family had that happened with two version of the Norwegian spelling that two different purposes and one portion of the family given without option and Americanized spelling. It was cleared up decades later by a visit to the home area where relatives who stayed behind were able to match photographs to names etc. DNA reunited the family.

  2. This case described above could be the flip side of a coin, with this story on the other side: two ex-coworkers of mine were health care professionals who wrongly declared someone dead who (unfortunately for the health care workers) later turned out to be very much alive. This was two separate cases with no persons overlapping.

    In TV fiction this scene is almost legion: a LEO person walks up to an expressionless unmoving body, touches the body, and quickly says, “She’s (or he’s) dead.” “Dead” is a legal term of art. There are sum total three conditions in which a non-medical professional may legally and professionally use the term “dead:” beheading, rigor mortis, and heart outside the chest cavity.

  3. “After the man was admitted with brain damage following a drug overdose, the hospital found Shirell Powell name in its records because her brother was previously treated at the hospital. Because of the breathing tube and the swollen features, she assumed that man was her brother — who was actually in a New York jail cell at the time. Family members came in to say goodbye and, while one sister immediately said that it was not her brother, the rest assumed that it was. Powell then approved termination.”
    **************************

    Drugs? Overdose? Jail? Family disagreeing in identity. The chaos in these lives speaks volumes.

  4. The hospital certainly was guilty of neglect. Nowhere does it indicate they used typical means of identification, fingerprints, DNA. I don’t know how long it takes to update the system but in the unlikely event the drug addict relative had no previous brushes with the law, he was in jail at the time and fingerprints were on file. With all the alleged relatives present, DNA could have ruled him out as a familial match. There was a good reason to run additional tests because the sister said it was not her brother.

    I don’t give much credence to the parts of the claim about having kissed the brother and held his hand. I can accept the emotional distress of having authorized the death of a stranger and going through the “death” of a loved one, drug addict and all.

    The hospital didn’t do its due diligence. The family may have some limited claim. The family of the man that died might have a thing or two to say as well.

    1. Not enough information was provided in this case to make a judgement of neglect or anything that has a price attached. It’s very easy for people like Enigma to talk about what should or shouldn’t be done but the one that ultimately pays the price is the consumer and the patient whose care falls as the bureaucracy increases.

  5. “(2) the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous;”

    Based on information in this article. I think this case hardly meets item #2.

    IMHO some family members saw dollar signs in this mans death. If I’m correct in my thesis, I would make the family members pay for any expenses incurred defending this case.

  6. Williams is a common name. When the grandparents came over to Ellis Island the two first names were interchanged at the border entry by a drunk clerk. Sons emerged. Wrong first names again. The guy alive was not the true family member of those who consented. The dead guy was. Case dismissed.

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