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Court rules Chapel Hill player's family can sue former EMT

Posted December 20, 2011

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— The family of a Chapel Hill High School football player who died in August 2008 can sue a former emergency medical technician who treated the teen before his death, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Atlas Fraley, 17, a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle, participated in an Aug. 12, 2008, scrimmage at Middle Creek High School in Apex. He called 911 that afternoon, complaining of cramps and dehydration and asking for intravenous fluids.

James Griffin, an EMT with Orange County Emergency Services, treated Fraley at his home before discharging him. His parents found him unresponsive that evening.

An autopsy report did not list a definite cause of death but said Fraley had a history of cramping and similar symptoms, which could have combined with dehydration to result in a "fatal cardiac event or even an acute asthmatic attack."

Fraley's parents alleged in a lawsuit that Griffin provided inadequate care for their son, violated 13 EMS protocols for his medical condition and did not attempt to contact them before leaving him home alone.

The family dropped their claims last year against Orange County Emergency Services and Orange County, which had claimed sovereign immunity.

Griffin sought to have the case dismissed against him as well, arguing that he was immune to suits because he was acting in his official capacity and because the job involves making judgment calls.

The three-judge Court of Appeals panel unanimously disagreed with that argument. They ruled state law never created the position of EMT, so Griffin cannot be considered a public official. Also, EMTs have to follow a set of treatment protocols, which limits the amount of discretion they can use on the job, the judges ruled.

State officials found no reason to revoke Griffin's paramedic credentials after the incident, but Orange County EMS determined that he violated protocol and revoked his privileges in the county. He resigned two weeks after Fraley's death.

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  • alopez2 Dec 27, 2011

    You people are unbelieveable!!! These ridciulous ignorant comments!!! A CHILD DIED PEOPLE... you are missing the point. @citizensoldier... shame on you. How dare you insinuate cocaine was involved? Because he was black right? And so the eff what if they sealed his toxicology reports he is a minor and DEAD they as his parents have the right to do whatever the f*ck they want with his reports! I'm CERTAIN they are not after this EMT's money... they want CLOSURE for their childs death and they want someone held responsible IF they should be held responsible. And for all of you 'liberal' hating people... get LIVES! This isnt about liberals or conservatives dumbasses. A CHILD DIED!!If you people have kids and are PASSING JUDGMENT on this family and what they are going through with the DEATH of their child... This could have happened to ANYONE of your kids. Would you say the same comments?? DIdint think so...

  • soyousay Dec 21, 2011

    BA, an MA in Public Health...neither of which are clinically oriented degrees

  • soyousay Dec 21, 2011

    at two of the NC medical schools ..

    really you have an academic appt at 2 medical schools

  • skysharellc Dec 21, 2011

    Thank you gentleman for including links to the care report, as well as the medical protocols for Orange County EMS. That was very helpful.

    It appears a complete assessment was done given the documented situational restraints and appropriately documented. It is sad we have to practice such defensive medicine. I wonder how long this young man would have waited to be seen at the ED? I can see myself making the same call - although without contact with the parent it would be tough. In reading the protocol, it seems contact (and approval) with/from medical control would have saved Mr. Griffin's certification.

    No matter your level of training, it is still a practice of medicine, folks. Let's keep some perspective. I teach at two of the NC medical schools - none of us are immune to mistakes. I see it all too often. We simply cannot transport every person, run every test and replace every organ... on everyone.

    Just curious, seankelly15, are you a physician?

  • fugitiveguy surfaces again Dec 20, 2011

    He looks like a pretty big guy, if they explained the need to transport and he emphatically said I a'int going what were they supposed to do? Call the sheriffs dept and take him against his will? Need more details. Of course now that a lawsuit is in the works details will be few to non existent.

  • citizensoldier16 Dec 20, 2011

    Simple fact is, this lawsuit is frivolous and wrong. Should Griffin have taken him to the hospital? Yes. But the simple fact of him not doing so did NOT lead to his death. There are 7 hours unaccounted for between when EMS saw him and when his family found him. Seven hours for him to have done anything. Combine that with the fact that his family sealed and will not release the toxicology report and what you have is doubt...why did the family seal those documents? Could it be that they contain the true cause of his death, and negate any claims they have against Griffin or Orange County EMS? I think so...

  • carolinafire Dec 20, 2011

    seankelly15...yes I am a firefighter, have been since 86. These paramedics and EMT's are paid by county tax dollars. While they are operating by contract with the county, they are operating on behalf of the county. Kinda of like Ambassadors representing the US in other countries. Now ambassadors are appointed by elected officials; these same elected officials have the authority to enter into a contract with private agencies to provide services that the county is required to provide. So by that contract these people represent the county....public officials. There are people in my field that shouldn't be there...like in any other occupation, but by tossing out this judgement they have stuck a knife in the back of every FF,EMT,and LEO out there who actually care about people. Politicians only protect themselves.

  • MudLife Dec 20, 2011

    At 17 you can't refuse treatment. The EMT should have transported him. EMT's aren't doctors and medics i volunteered with tell patients that straight up. We've had pt's look at us and say what do you think could be wrong or do you think its broke and we say ma'am or sir we're not a doctor you'll have to be transported to the hospital for them to tell you. Yes EMT's spend great hours in training and doing clinicals. But that doesn't make us doctors. Like some comments i've read here saying just let it go. If they pulled out once idk why they'd bring it back up. Once an EMT's certification is pulled thats bad enough. That tears em apart. But i understand a child died.But he should have transported and contacted family either on the way or once he got to the hospital. I ain't gonna lie a medical emergency is harder to treat than a trauma. With medical emergencies there are a 1,000 things that could be wrong with the pt. Its not as easy as sticking a band aid on it.

  • citizensoldier16 Dec 20, 2011

    Yes, cause of death was cardiac...I never said anything about that. Cocaine can cause cardiac arrest. Ever think about that? I've been doing more than driving an ambulance...probably more than you have been doing making assumptions about people who's opinion you don't agree with. I have a BA, an MA in Public Health, and am Nationally Registered as a Paramedic. Care to debate those credentials? I didn't think so.

  • citizensoldier16 Dec 20, 2011

    Here's my documentation - the OCES Patient Care Protocols.

    http://www.co.orange.nc.us/emergency/documents/2009EMSProtocols.pdf

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