Joaquin Rivera, 63, died while waiting to see a doctor in the emergency room at Aria Health’s Frankford Campus in Philadelphia on Saturday, November 28, 2009. Videotape clearly shows Rivera going into distress at 10:56 p.m. just 11 minutes after he signed in. At 11:45 p.m., nearly 50 minutes after Rivera stopped moving, hospital personnel noticed that he was dead. I extend my sympathies to Mr. Rivera’s family.
Mr. Rivera, who friends said had been close to retirement, worked as a bilingual counseling assistant at Olney High School and was a popular guitarist in the city’s Puerto Rican community.
His wife, Maria, said that Rivera had pain in his left arm the week before he died and sought medical attention. “He asked a doctor to administer an electrocardiogram to monitor his heart” said Roger Zepernick, Rivera’s friend. “The doctor said he didn’t need it,” Zepernick said. So, Rivera returned home.
On Saturday, the day he died, Rivera went to Zepernick’s church to help put up Christmas decorations. “He again complained about pain on his left side, including his torso and neck,” Zepernick said. “The president of the church offered to drive Rivera to the hospital, but he refused,” Zepernick added.
Rivera’s son, Joaquin Jr., said that he last saw his father alive around 9 p.m. Saturday. The elder Rivera was in bed, complaining of pain from his left shoulder through the left side of his chest and abdomen. “I don’t feel too good,” the son recalled his father saying. Joaquin Jr. then left the house and went out for the evening.
At 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Rivera left his home, walked two blocks to the emergency room, signed in, and took a seat in the waiting area. The video tape of the emergency room shows Rivera going to the window twice in the 11 minutes after he arrived, complaining of chest pain. The tape then shows Rivera struggling to breathe, bringing his hand to his chest, and then falling still in his seat. His watch was then stolen by one of the three people in the waiting room. He was pronounced dead at 12:04 a.m. Sunday — one hour and 19 minutes after he checked into the emergency room.
In law, the proximate cause of an injury is the legal cause of the injury. It is the initial act which sets off a natural and continuous sequence of events that produces injury. In the absence of the initial act which produces injury, no injury would have resulted. In order to determine proximate cause, the courts have devised the “but for” rule. A finding that an injury would not have occurred “but for” a person’s action or omission establishes that the particular act or omission is the proximate cause of the harm. Sometimes there is an intervening cause which comes between the negligence of the original person and the injury, which will either reduce or eliminate original person’s negligence.
The circumstances leading to the injury (alleged heart failure) which caused Mr. Rivera’s death are troubling and unfortunate. His family will undoubtedly bring a lawsuit against the hospital. But was the negligence of the ER staff the proximate cause of Mr. Rivera’s death?
See another post on this topic at: