A federal court ruled that first responders are immune from a civil lawsuit accusing them of violating a woman’s civil rights after they mistakenly declared the young Michigan woman dead.
Timesha Beauchamp was not exposed to a “private act of violence” after paramedics stopped providing emergency medical services, and her estate cannot bring a wrongful death action against the first responders or the City of Southfield, Michigan, a panel determined.
Beauchamp, a 20-year-old Detroit woman with cerebral palsy, was pronounced dead by first responders, placed in a body bag by a funeral home employee, and transported to the James H Cole funeral home on August 23, 2020.
EMTs were called to Beauchamp’s home after her caregiver noticed that she was not “fully responsive.” Once first responders arrived, four first responders attempted CPR and ventilation using a bag valve mask.
After about half an hour, the EMTs discontinued their efforts to resuscitate Beauchamp and declared her dead. They also called a doctor to obtain permission to stop resuscitation efforts, although they had already stopped more than five minutes before receiving permission, the ruling said.
The ruling said “multiple indicators” showed that the 20-year-old was still alive – despite first responders declaring her dead.
The ruling noted that Beauchamp’s capnography indicated continued respiration, her cardiac monitor showed electrical activity, and family members noticed her continued breathing and pulse. Despite these indicators, first responders said that she was dead.
A funeral home employee who came to the home to collect the body then placed Beauchamp in a body bag.
She was reportedly in a body bag for two hours until an embalmer opened the body bag and discovered that the 20-year-old was still alive and “gasping for air with her eyes open and her chest moving up and down.”
Beauchamp was taken to a nearby hospital and placed on a ventilator, but died from an anoxic brain injury six weeks later on October 18, 2020.
After Beauchamp’s death, Howard Linden, the administrator of her estate, sued the City of Southfield, Michigan, and the individual emergency medical workers for violating Beauchamp’s Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights.
The plaintiff argued that the first responders’ treatment of Beauchamp amounted to a “state-created danger” that resulted in “a private act of violence” against her.
In June 2022, a federal judge dismissed constitutional and due process claims brought by Linden and granted the paramedics’ request for qualified immunity.
The estate appealed, and the case was argued before a three-judge panel in June 2023.
U.S. Circuit Judge Julia Gibbons wrote that it is “hard to see” the plaintiff’s theory of “state-created danger.”
“It is hard to see how it could be ‘clearly established’ that the first responders exposed Beauchamp to a private act of violence when they mistakenly believed she was dead and left her in her family’s care to be processed for routine funeral proceedings, which included the funeral home employee’s act of putting Beauchamp’s presumed-dead body into a body bag to transport her to a funeral home,” Gibbons wrote.