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A jury has ordered the city of Chicago to pay $50 million to the parents of a 19-year-old man who died during an asthma attack while waiting for an ambulance. Joseph and Debra Gant alleged that their son died because the city’s 911 system failed to respond to their calls, and the ambulance they called arrived too late. The verdict was the largest-ever personal injury or wrongful death judgment against the city of Chicago, said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul M. McMahon of Chicago’s James Paul Costello Ltd. Douglas Gant, a long-term asthmatic, had a severe attack on the morning of March 16, 1997, McMahon said. When Ms. Gant called 911 at 10:58 a.m., a 911 call taker in the police station transferred the call to the fire department, which “didn’t pick up for a minute, and the ambulance was not dispatched until 11 a.m.,” McMahon said. In the meantime, Mr. Gant had passed out. His mother called 911 again. The phone rang 26 times without an answer, McMahon alleged. When the call was finally completed, the 911 operator at the fire department gave no instructions on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The ambulance arrived at six and a half minutes after 11 a.m. By then it was too late to revive him. Gant v. City of Chicago, No. 97-L-3579 (Cir. Ct., Cook Co., Ill.). The plaintiffs alleged that several failures — including the 911 supervisor in the fire station going for lunch, and allowing another worker to go, leaving no one available to answer the Gants’ call in time, and the ambulance taking more than six minutes to arrive, although just one block away — constituted “willful and wanton misconduct,” the standard for erasing municipal immunity. The city claimed the ambulance responded as quickly as possible and that a quicker response would not have saved him. “The paramedics said the parents found him unconscious and that . . . he looked like he had been dead 30 minutes,” said McMahon. They also claimed there was heavy traffic. Tapes of the calls disproved the paramedics’ claims, he alleged. The city will appeal the verdict.

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