NEW PORT RICHEY — When Ernest Soltwisch went to Bayonet Point Wound Care Center for treatment of a sore on his foot in May 2004, he had a host of medical problems.
He was 75, with osteoporosis, osteopenia and a history of seizures. Inside the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, he suffered another seizure. The wound care staff brought him out and called 911.
Pasco County paramedics took him by ambulance to the hospital across the parking lot, and when they arrived Soltwisch was wailing about pain in his leg.
He had a fractured femur. He developed an infection and died two weeks later from multiple ailments. His widow filed a lawsuit saying the paramedics who transported her husband banged him around in the ambulance, breaking his leg.
But attorneys for Pasco County said Soltwisch's seizure caused the fracture. His medical condition made him susceptible to injury.
"This is the only plausible explanation for what occurred," defense attorney Dan Shapiro said.
A jury, which began hearing the case last week, agreed Monday and found no negligence by the paramedics.
"Was there any evidence that something happened that fell below their standard of care?" Shapiro said. "The transfer that day was done very professionally and very competently."
But J. Steele Olmstead, who represented Michele Soltwisch, likened the paramedics to children who broke their grandmother's vase and tried to hide it. He questioned why, if Soltwisch already had a broken leg at the wound center, paramedics didn't document it.
"If there was something besides this ride in the ambulance that caused the injury to this elderly man, where is the documentation?" Olmstead asked.
Shapiro argued that Soltwisch wasn't fully conscious from the seizure and couldn't communicate right away that he was in pain. A doctor who testified said Soltwisch was awake at the wound care center but not talking.
"Ernest Soltwisch would have been able to describe, perhaps to the doctor, perhaps to his own wife, to somebody, what happened to him in the course of his hospitalization," Shapiro said.
This was the second time the case went to trial. In 2008, a jury heard all the evidence, but Circuit Judge Lowell Bray granted a verdict in favor of the county before the jury deliberated.
Olmstead appealed, and the higher court sent the case back for another trial.
The jury Tuesday deliberated just over an hour.
Olmstead said their verdict sends a troubling message: "It's okay to break a man's leg in Pasco County and not be held accountable."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.