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Hillsborough okays $2.75 million settlement for paramedics’ inaction prior to woman’s death

The settlement calls for $300,000 immediately, with the remainder due if the Legislature authorizes a claims bill.
Nicole Black, left, filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Hillsborough County alleging paramedics failed to property treat her daughter Crystle Galloway, right, in 2018.
Nicole Black, left, filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Hillsborough County alleging paramedics failed to property treat her daughter Crystle Galloway, right, in 2018. [ Courtesy Nicole Black ]
Published Jun. 25, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County has agreed to a $2.75 million settlement to end a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of a 30-year-old stroke victim who died in 2018, after a county ambulance crew failed to take her vital signs or transport her to a hospital.

The settlement, approved last week without comment by county commissioners, calls for the county to pay $300,000 to the estate of Crystle Galloway, with the remainder due if the state Legislature and governor approve a $2.45 million claims bill the family intends to seek next year in Tallahassee.

“I think the result was a good result for everyone,‘' County Administrator Mike Merrill said this week about the settlement. “It was very unfortunate. Sad for everyone involved, clearly.‘'

Related: She died after medics failed to take her, now her family is suing

Efforts to reach the family’s attorney, Herb Borroto of Coral Gables, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Galloway’s mother, Nicole Black, filed suit in October, alleging her daughter died because of the negligence of four paramedics who failed to treat her properly in the early morning hours of July 4, 2018. Galloway, a mother of three, had given birth two weeks before her death.

Black summoned the ambulance shortly after 3 a.m. after finding her daughter passed out on the bathroom floor. She told the 911 dispatcher Galloway had a swollen lip and was drooling, according to the suit. Galloway had delivered a baby via c-section on June 27. The initial call was classified as “stroke/cerebrovascular attack.‘'

The suit said Galloway was crying hysterically, complaining of a headache and sensitivity to light and vomited while the paramedics were at the scene. Lt. John Mike Morris, who was in charge of the ambulance crew, said there was no need to transport Galloway to the hospital and she appeared to have had “too much to drink,” according to the suit. The crew helped carry the woman down the stairs from the third-floor so Black could take her to the hospital.

As Black drove to the hospital, her daughter started having seizures. They arrived at a Temple Terrace emergency room operated by Brandon Regional Hospital — a center unequipped to treat stroke patients. Doctors determined she had suffered a stroke resulting in an aneurysm and acute bleeding in her brain. Galloway was flown to Tampa General Hospital, where she slipped into a coma and died five days later, just a few days shy of her 31st birthday..

Related: One paramedic fired, three others disciplined

Merrill later disciplined all four medics, including firing Morris. In announcing the action in September 2018, Merrill also apologized to the family for what he called the county’s “lack of care and service.”

An independent arbitrator later ordered the county to rehire Morris, saying it was unfair to punish him more severely than the others. However, the ruling did not award Morris back pay, which resulted in the lieutenant losing approximately 15 months of salary and benefits.

Related: Arbitrator: Hillsborough fire rescue must hire back lieutenant

The rest of the crew — acting Lt. Cortney Barton and fire medics Justin Sweeney and Andrew J. Martin — were suspended without pay for 10 shifts, or 240 hours. Sweeney also received a demotion to firefighter/EMT status. Barton was declared ineligible to act as a lieutenant for one year and said she must retrain before taking a supervisory position.

In depositions and sworn testimonies, all four fire medics described violating multiple policies and procedures during the 13-minute call to Galloway’s Temple Terrace apartment — then reported that the call was canceled or checked boxes that said “no patient was found.” The arbitrator, in a December 2019 ruling, noted that Morris made false and conflicting statements while under oath about why the fire medics failed to transport Galloway to the hospital or even take her vital signs.

Court records showed the case remained open as of Wednesday. It had been scheduled for a jury trial the week of Oct. 5 in Hillsborough Circuit Court.