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Tampa to pay $112,500 to settle negligence case over wrong drug given by paramedic

Published May 23, 2015

TAMPA — A paramedic's mistake in giving an auto accident victim a paralyzing drug instead of a painkiller will cost city taxpayers $112,500.

The City Council this week approved the settlement to 68-year-old Arlene Lawin of Tampa, who suffered a bad ankle injury when another car collided with hers at Cleveland Street and Moody Avenue in 2012.

At the scene, Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics evaluated Lawin, put her on a backboard and meant to give her fentanyl, a potent pain medication, according to court records.

Instead, she was administered succinylcholine, a muscle relaxer used in surgical or anesthetic settings.

"Everything stops," Tampa lawyer Kevin McLaughlin, who represents Lawin, said of the drug's effect. "It's like being buried alive, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't cry for help. You can't shake your head. … You cannot breathe."

With a line inserted to give Lawin intravenous fluids, paramedics noticed she had stopped breathing, according to a lawsuit she filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court last year.

In response, they used a mask with a squeezable bag to get her breathing again. They also loaded her into an ambulance and, on the way to the hospital, inserted a breathing tube. She ended up at Tampa General Hospital as a trauma alert patient, partly due to the intubation, her complaint said.

Lawin's lawsuit contended the paramedics were negligent in administering the succinylcholine, inserting the breathing tube, later giving her twice the allowable dosage of fentanyl and failing to give emergency room personnel an accurate history about why she was intubated.

As a result, the suit said, Lawin, a legal secretary, received unnecessary treatment, took longer to recover and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It was a fair resolution, and a factor in the decision to settle the case was not having her relive the pain of this incident on the stand at trial," McLaughlin said Friday.

City Attorney Julia Mandell declined to comment because there still may be steps to take before the case is fully closed. But before settling the case, an attorney for the city wrote in court pleadings that in trying to give Lawin emergency care, city personnel "inadvertently administered a medication that normally would not be administered in these circumstances, which caused a temporary paralysis."

"Upon determining the paralysis, the plaintiff was immediately treated in an appropriate manner and the plaintiff fully recovered from any temporary illness incurred by the incorrect medication," said William J. Terry, senior assistant city attorney, in a response to Lawin's complaint.

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Pleadings in the lawsuit do not name the paramedic who administered the succinylcholine, but McLaughlin said it was fire rescue Capt. Wayne Tolzman. On Friday, Tolzman declined to comment through a Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman.

A trial had been scheduled for early June. City Council members did not discuss the case on Thursday before voting to approve the settlement, but city attorneys told them settling the case out of court could be less costly than a jury verdict.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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