Monday, May 5, 2008

Firefighter sued 911 caller for injury

Elizabeth Baker, now 84, has moved into an assisted-living facility in Florida, but her son. Steuart Baker continues trying to fend off the lawsuit filed against her mother by a firefighter-emergency medical technician with Lake County Fire Rescue.

Jennifer Roland claims she suffered back and neck injuries when the front left wheel of a fire engine broke through the lid of an old septic tank in front of Elizabeth Baker's house in Mount Dora. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages of more than $15,000.

Steuart Baker said he's been upset that a paramedic would sue a patient. "Police officers, firemen, paramedics are public servants," he said. "If I call a paramedic and they hurt themselves they'll sue me? That wasn't how public service was intended."

Roland would not comment on the case. But her attorney said that he thought that the paramedic was within her rights to sue.

Baker grew up on the property with his parents and brothers. He said no one knew about the septic tank until a fire engine arriving to take his mother to the hospital broke through the lid during an emergency call in March 2005. The engine had to be pulled out with a tow truck.

After that, Baker said, he filled the tank in with sand himself, and thought the problem was solved. But in her lawsuit, Roland says she was hurt while riding on a fire vehicle that broke through the septic-tank lid on another emergency call two months later.

Steuart Baker is coordinating the family's defense of the suit because his mother is too ill to handle it herself.

Roland's personnel file contains documents pertaining to Roland's multiple periods of medical leave and light duty since the accident. Christopher Patton, a spokesman for Lake County government, said that Roland had received worker's compensation benefits, but would not specify how much, citing privacy laws. Patton said that Roland notified her superiors when she filed the lawsuit, but that they now are looking at the case with more scrutiny. "They didn't actually view the lawsuit. They didn't understand all of the ramifications that were involved," Patton said. "Perhaps we're at fault for not investigating what the intentions were in the suit."

Last October, Casselberry police Sgt. Andrea Eichhorn sued the family of a boy who fell into a swimming pool, suffering severe brain damage, in January 2007. Eichhorn responded to the scene, slipped in a puddle, fell, and broke a kneecap.

Eichhorn dropped the lawsuit less than two weeks after she filed it, in response to complaints and criticism from the public. The Police Department fired her in December after an investigation concluded that she had violated department policies, including damaging the department's image and filing suit without giving the police chief advance written notice.

Patton would not say whether Lake County Fire Rescue would take action against Roland. But he said that the public shouldn't fear calling 911 because of potential legal ramifications. "Any time you call 911, there is an expectation that you should be safe and not in harm's way," he said. (info from Orlando Sentinel)

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