Medical Alert Cos. Can’t Escape Wrongful Death Suit

A Georgia federal judge won’t let a pair of medical medallion companies out of a suit alleging a customer died because the dispatcher failed to send the proper response team in time when she was unable to breathe, saying the complaint sufficiently alleges the companies failed to live up to the promises of their advertising.

U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land denied motions from MedScope America Corp. and AvantGuard Monitoring Centers LLC to dismiss a suit from Eric Brown, whose mother, Loretta Lewis, had bought the MedScope medallion and contracted with the company because of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Lewis lived alone, and she and her family signed up for MedScope because of her COPD, believing that if she had trouble breathing, she may be unable to reach a phone, so the medallion, which would remain around her neck, would be a better way to receive help. While MedScope made the medallions and contracted with customers, AvantGuard ran the call center.

On Dec. 11, 2019, Lewis found herself unable to breathe and used the medallion. However, the dispatcher only told emergency services that Lewis was having trouble breathing, and did not ask her — and therefore could not tell the emergency responders — if she was home alone or the door was locked.

As a result, when the first responders arrived three minutes after Lewis’s call, they could not get into the house, and had to wait another 12 minutes for a firetruck to arrive and get inside, where they found Lewis. Lewis died three days later of an anoxic brain injury, which is caused by lack of oxygen.

Brown sued for violations of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act and Unfair and Deceptive Practices Toward The Elderly Act, as well as for negligence.

While the companies argued that their alleged misconduct was part of a private transaction beyond the scope of the Georgia laws, Judge Land said instead Brown alleges exactly the kind of public transaction that the acts are meant to encompass.

Brown alleged that he and his mother relied on MedScope’s public advertising, which he says contended that its services were on par with or better than 911 emergency calls, and alleged that those deceptive representations induced his mother to go to MedScope.

The complaint sufficiently alleges that MedScope and AvantGuard failed to meet their promises to “triage the customer’s needs and location” and dispatch appropriate local agencies, as Brown contended that a regular 911 call would have had the dispatcher properly assess Lewis’s condition and the situation at her house.

Judge Land rejected the companies’ bid to dismiss the negligence tort claim, saying that because they took on the responsibility of seeing to the safety of Lewis, they owed her a duty of care and the complaint alleges that Lewis relied on that assumption of duty to her detriment.


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