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.