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N.C. Appeals Court hears mistaken-death case

Posted November 18, 2009
Updated November 19, 2009

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— The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard arguments as to whether the family of a Franklin County man mistakenly declared dead has grounds to sue the county's medical examiner.

Larry Donnell Green was walking along U.S. Highway 401 north of Louisburg when he was hit by a car on Jan. 24, 2005. Paramedics responding to the accident declared Green dead, although they didn't thoroughly examine him.

Larry Green N.C. Appeals Court hears mistaken-death case

Green was zipped into a body bag and sent to the Franklin County morgue, where the coroner later saw him breathing.

He has spent most of his time since then in a rehabilitation facility in Wilson. He's bed-ridden, can barely talk and will likely be that way for the rest of his life, family members have said.

Green's family argues that the medical examiner, Dr. J. B. Perdue, could have prevented the oversight. State attorneys disagree.

"Our position would be that the defendant, Perdue, was not even negligent," Mabel Bullock, with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, said.

Attorney's for the state argued Wednesday that because Perdue is a state employee, he is protected against the lawsuit. In addition, he was not at fault, they argued, because first responders to the scene told Perdue that Green was already dead.

"The medical examiner is only called to the scene of an accident when someone is dead," Bullock said. "They're not involved, otherwise. Their duty is to determine the cause of death."

Green's family believes Perdue overlooked crucial information and ignored the observations of others at the scene who thought Green might still be alive.

"As soon as there is any doubt in his mind as to whether he's dealing with a dead body, he has a responsibility to ascertain whether he is or not, and if he's not, then he should assume his jurisdiction," family attorney Judy Vincent Pope said.

In September, Green's family reached a $1 million settlement – the bulk of which, attorneys say, will be placed in a trust to pay for Green's medical care – against the county and two paramedics in the case.

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  • FromClayton Nov 19, 2009

    why did the paramedics get in trouble? I am pretty sure it takes a MD to declare someone dead, therefore it would not have been their responsiblity. I can call someone dead all day, but since i have no md and authority to do so it woulnt really matter.

  • dbcooper41 Nov 19, 2009

    "When Perdue opened Green's shirt to examine his chest, however, several emergency responders standing nearby saw Green breathing, according to the lawsuit. One paramedic asked Perdue whether Green was, in fact, breathing. Perdue explained that it was just air escaping the body."
    "while Perdue examined Green further, several other paramedics saw one of Green's eyes twitch. According to the lawsuit, they asked Perdue whether he was sure that Green was dead. Perdue said the eye-twitching was just a muscle spasm.""
    -------------------------------------------------
    yep, blame him. he had several opportunities to avoid this error and he failed. though i suppose the victim is lucky that he wasn't autopsied.

  • forensics Nov 19, 2009

    I'm not trying to give an opinion as to whether the ME is responsible, but please remember that he is a MD which means that he does have a duty to do no harm. In not recognizing that the person was in fact still alive, he may have cause further harm by delaying medical treatment. Also, unless things have changed in the last few years, paramedics technically cannot declare a person deceased, a doctor must do that. It sounds ridiculous, but that is the way the law/rules read.

  • familyfour Nov 19, 2009

    oh...didn't the coroner discover he was indeed NOT dead?

    Blame him?

    I don't get it.

  • familyfour Nov 19, 2009

    In all fairness....

    didn't the paramedics "call" it?

    Can any of us really imagine what this coroner sees a body go through during this process?

    Coroners are called at for the deceased....not to "make sure". The only thing the coroner is supposed to make sure of is how the death occurred, not "if" it did. That is decided prior to the coroner being called..

    Of course, I could be all wrong.

  • dbcooper41 Nov 19, 2009

    http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local_state/story/199518.html

    "They called for Perdue, who had been the county's medical examiner for 30years. Green's attorney said Perdue never checked to see if Green was alive. Rather, Perdue began examining Green's injuries. He looked for bruises on his buttocks, checked his back and stuck his finger in a gaping wound in Green's head, trying to figure out how he died.
    When Perdue opened Green's shirt to examine his chest, however, several emergency responders standing nearby saw Green breathing, according to the lawsuit. One paramedic asked Perdue whether Green was, in fact, breathing. Perdue explained that it was just air escaping the body.
    Green was taken to the morgue in a body bag. There, while Perdue examined Green further, several other paramedics saw one of Green's eyes twitch. According to the lawsuit, they asked Perdue whether he was sure that Green was dead. Perdue said the eye-twitching was just a muscle spasm."

    not negligent?

  • dbcooper41 Nov 19, 2009

    "dbcooper. How did race get into this? I had not read any raccist comments. "
    this is purely my opinion. it is based on comments such as:"cold, high, drunk, major head injury...I can see how he was mistaken for dead.", "and wearing all black as well.", "Do not stand in the roadway while drunk", "The family sounds money hungry to me.", "The ultimate blame, if any, lies with Mr. Green".
    not a single story in the wral archives supports these comments. while some of these statements may indeed be true and documented in other news stories i personally don't believe for a second that such cold callous remarks would have been made if the victim was a white male or female.
    again, just my opinion.

  • dbcooper41 Nov 19, 2009

    let me possibly correct myself. after reading the original story in the archives it appears that dr perdue was the one who discovered he was still alive. this story suggests the dr was at the scene which might imply the dr made a mistake there and bagged him as dead. reading the original story it looks like he then found him alive at the morgue. if this is accurate the dr discovered and then corrected his own mistake.
    from an archived story "Even after Greene was taken out of body bag and a paramedic saw his eyes twitch, nothing was done, Batton said.
    According to Batton, a paramedic asked the medical examiner about the eye twitch and if the medical examiner was sure Green was dead.
    The doctor responded that it was "a muscle spasm -- like a frog leg jumping in a frying pan."
    this doesn't look good for the ME's case.

  • Tax Man Nov 19, 2009

    Seems like they got their settlement from the Paramedics who made the incorrect call - why would the coroner even have to look at the body that day if he was pronounced dead. Drop the case! Once he realized the error the Doctor acted accordingly. He did what he was supposed to do. Bogus lawsuit.

  • djcgriffin Nov 19, 2009

    give me no quarter - I think that someone did drop the ball. Whether he was inebriated or not when he was hit by the car makes no difference. He would have been injured, yes, but it was the mistake of the first responders or ME of not double checking each other's work. I dont doubt that he incurred additional brain damage by being in a cooler for about an hour, who wouldnt?

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