Local News

N.C. Appeals Court hears mistaken-death case

Posted November 18, 2009 5:39 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2009 5:47 a.m. EST

— 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.

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.