County settles lawsuit against MCFR for wrongful death

File photo: A Marion County Fire Rescue engine. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted February 28, 2024 | By Caroline Brauchler

Marion County is paying one family $125,000 to settle a lawsuit that claims that the actions of two Marion County Fire Rescue EMT paramedics caused the wrongful death of a 91-year-old man while being transported from a rehabilitation center.

Robert Strum died just over a month after falling off a stretcher after EMT paramedics failed to secure him while transporting him to the hospital from the Ocala Oaks Rehabilitation Center after he fell the day before, according to the lawsuit.

Strum’s daughter, Susan Menand, filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the county, claiming the injuries sustained by her father at the hands of paramedic John Phillips and EMT Noah Woodrome-Garcia “resulted in aggravation or exacerbation of an existing disease or physical defect,” which prominently caused or contributed to his death, according to the lawsuit.

Phillips was hired by MCFR in 2008. Woodrome-Garcia was hired in 2021.

On March 26, 2022, Strum fell in the rehabilitation center, and MCFR paramedics were called to transport him to the hospital for testing. At the time, Strum was described by witnesses as being awake and in no acute distress. Surveillance video from the rehabilitation center shows Strum being wheeled out on a stretcher in this condition.

Paramedics failed to fasten and secure the safety belts on Strum, however. The video shows the EMT and paramedic “negligently” handling the stretcher, which tipped over. Strum “fell off the stretcher, head-first, directly onto the asphalt below,” according to the lawsuit.

Strum sustained a head injury when he was dropped, and additionally had bruising on his body that was not present before being taken to the ambulance.

“Rather than reporting the incident, the EMT paramedics falsified the patient care record and indicated ‘(patient) loaded up with no incident’…the report given to the nurse was false as well, it mentions nothing about the events captured on the surveillance video,” according to the lawsuit.

The only record of this incident was the footage captured on video from the rehabilitation center, rather than any reports being made by the MCFR personnel themselves, according to the lawsuit.

When he was returned to the rehabilitation center, Strum’s condition had “deteriorated significantly,” and the lawsuit claims this was the beginning of a chain of events that directly led to Strum’s death on May 2.

Menand sought compensation for her father’s medical expenses, physical and emotional distress and conscious pain and suffering in the weeks leading up to his death. Rather than taking the case to trial, Menand offered the county an opportunity to settle.

Marion County disputed Menand’s claim of wrongful death, saying that Strum’s age and underlying medical conditions contributed to his death, but the count remained for the injuries caused by the EMT paramedics.

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners accepted Menand’s offer to settle at the Feb. 20 meeting, paying Menand $125,000 to settle the lawsuit and resolve the claims against MCFR.

The “Gazette” reached out to MCFR for comment on the lawsuit’s settlement on behalf of those involved, but received no response at the time of publication.

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