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CASE TYPE: Wrongful death CASE: Gant v. City of Chicago, 97 L 3579 (Cook Co., Ill., Cir. Ct.) PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEYS: Paul M. McMahon and Jill Webb of Chicago’s James Paul Costello DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: John H. Ehrlich and Ann Scrivner, assistant corporation counsel, city of Chicago JURY VERDICT: $50 million Douglas Gant, then 19 and a long-term asthmatic, had a severe asthma attack on the morning of March 16, 1997, said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul M. McMahon. The attack was so severe, he said, that the inhalers that Gant used were ineffective in halting it: “He told his parents to call 911, that he had to go to the hospital.” His mother, Debra Gant, called 911 at 10:58 that morning, as his father, Joseph, helped his son get dressed, McMahon said. The call reached the 911 call-taker at the local Chicago police station, who transferred the call to the fire department. The call-taker at the fire station, McMahon said, “didn’t pick up for a minute and the ambulance was not dispatched until 11 a.m.” Douglas Gant passed out. “His mother called 911 again and the police picked up immediately and transferred her to the fire station. The phone rings 26 times, for two minutes and 40 seconds, without an answer,” McMahon said. When the call was finally completed, he said, “Doug was turning blue.” He added that the 911 operator at the fire department gave no instructions on how to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The ambulance arrived at 6-1/2 minutes after 11 a.m. By then, it was too late to revive Douglas, McMahon said. After Douglas Gant’s death, his parents sued the city of Chicago. The plaintiffs charged that the supervisor of the 911 operation in the fire station had left the station for lunch and allowed another worker to leave as well, leaving no one available to answer the phone. They charged that the failure to provide proper mouth-to-mouth resuscitation instructions left Joseph Gant pushing air into his son’s stomach rather than his lungs and that the paramedics inexplicably arrived more than six minutes after being dispatched, even though the ambulance was only one block from the Gant home. The plaintiffs had to prove not just negligence, McMahon said: To erase municipal immunity for actions against the city, the failures had to arise to the level of “willful and wanton misconduct.” McMahon brought the 911 workers and supervisors to the stand to discuss standards and detail the deviations. In an ordinary job, he added, “taking a lunch break is not a big deal. But here, if someone leaves and there’s no one to cover for them, people could die.” To prove this conduct was more than mere negligence, he said, “I got admissions from each witness that performing their job properly was a matter of life and death. Knowing the severity of the consequences of their actions gets you to willful and wanton misconduct.” The plaintiffs also had to prove causation, McMahon said. The city claimed that the ambulance responded as quickly as possible and that a quicker response would not have saved Douglas Gant. But the city’s attempts to support these claims worked for the plaintiffs, McMahon said. “The paramedics said the parents found him unconscious and that when they arrived he looked like he had been dead 30 minutes,” McMahon said. “They said there was heavy traffic.” In addition, he said, the paramedics claimed they had been ringing the Gant doorbell for two minutes before being let into the home. “These were all lies,” McMahon charged. The 911 calls were taped and disproved the paramedics’ claims. “You can hear Doug Gant on the first phone call saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ You can hear on the tape when the paramedics came.” On Nov. 30, the Chicago jury awarded $25 million to each parent. A hearing on post-trial motions is scheduled next month. The city has vowed to appeal.

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