NEW PORT RICHEY — The widow of a man who died nearly five months after being dropped on a stretcher will get $200,000 to settle her lawsuit with Pasco County.
Louise Fichter alleged in a complaint filed in 2011 that the death of her 79-year-old husband, Robert, who was injured in an Oct. 5, 2009, auto accident, was the result of negligence on the part of Pasco Fire Rescue.
The wreck, which also injured Mrs. Fichter, occurred at Mitchell and Trinity Oaks boulevards. Rescue crews put Fichter on a firm spine board and then onto a stretcher before loading him onto an ambulance. When they arrived at Community Hospital, Fichter's stretcher fell, causing a cut to the head.
"Plaintiff contends the laceration resulted after her late husband's head struck the galvanized steel bumper of the rescue unit and not the firm spine board as claimed by the Fire Rescue unit's paramedic," according to a memo from Assistant County Attorney Anthony Salzano to county commissioners, who signed off Tuesday on the proposed settlement.
Mrs. Fichter alleged that her husband was unnecessarily placed on a spine board because he did not have any head injuries before being dropped.
It appears the stretcher was dropped because a bar on the back of the stretcher failed to catch on a latch attached to the floor of the ambulance, which, in turn, failed to extend the front legs of the stretcher.
Once at the hospital, Fichter's wound was closed with four staples. He and his wife were transferred to Mease Dunedin, where they stayed three days before being sent home.
Several weeks later, Fichter was readmitted to Mease after complaining of headaches that were found to be because of fluid collecting on both sides of his brain around the injury. He underwent surgery and was readmitted to a rehab center, where he remained for two weeks. After that, he had to return to the hospital for a second surgery and was then sent back to rehab.
There, he began having difficulty with his speech and the use of his left hand, the memo said. A month later, he had to have a surgery in which shunts were put into his head to drain fluid. Scans showed a new hemorrhage and right-sided weakness. Fichter also got pneumonia.
Fichter was admitted to hospice Feb. 5, where he died 18 days later.
County attorneys recommended the county settle the lawsuit for $200,000, the maximum that governments are liable for without a special claims bill from the Legislature.
Based on the facts of the case, the attorney and risk-management officials said they "believe that a jury will likely reach a verdict that will exceed" that amount.
Mrs. Fichter agreed to drop the case in exchange for the settlement.
"The settlement is recommended in light of the risk of a higher verdict at trial together with expected costs," the memo said.