PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center is being sued by a woman who alleges her mother was placed in a body bag in 2017 before she died fighting for her life.
When Catherine Delo, 99, arrived at Harper-Ridgeview Funeral Chapel in Port Angeles on Feb. 15, 2017, she was lying on a bloody sheet, her nose broken, according to the lawsuit, filed March 29 in Clallam County Superior Court by Delo’s daughter, Evelyn Marie Galland of Port Angeles.
Delo’s right right-hand was bruised, evidence she struggled to free herself from her “entombment” in a “coffin-like surrounding,” according to the lawsuit.
“It holds the Edgar Allen Poe-ish horror associated with being buried alive,” the family’s attorney, Jeffery Kallis of Bainbridge Island, said Monday.
“She wasn’t buried, but she was wrapped and treated as dead.”
Also named as defendants are Karen Tyler, a registered nurse at OMC who was caring for Delo when she died, according to the lawsuit, and 10 as-yet unnamed parties referred to as “Doe 1-10,” including doctors and nurses that Galland says also were negligent. Some of them are not direct employees of OMC, Kallis said.
A seven- to 10-day trial has been set for Sept. 21, 2020.
A discovery hearing will likely be in mid-December, Kallis said.
The parties are required to seek a settlement before trial.
Galland is seeking legal costs, and special and general damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
Olympic Medical Center denies causing Delo’s death, denies liability, has asked that the case be dismissed and is seeking attorney’s fees.
In his June 13 answer to the lawsuit, Seattle lawyer Levi Larson offers potential defenses pending further discovery in the case.
“Plaintiff’s damages, if any, may have been proximately caused by the negligent actions or omissions of third parties over whom defendants had no control or right of control,” Larson said.
“Plaintiff’s injuries and damages may have been proximately caused in whole or in part by his own comparative fault and/or failure to mitigate,” Larson says in the another potential defense.
Larson would not comment further on the case Monday.
According to the lawsuit, Tyler alone determined Delo had died, failing to follow OMC policy that requires two nurses to separately verify a person’s death.
A police investigation determined that under OMC policy, two nurses are required to separately determine that a patient has died, according to the lawsuit and a declaration that Dr. Viral Shah, a Tacoma internist, made on behalf of Galland.
Delo, a Salem, S.D., native, was born July 12, 1917, more than a year before the end of World War I, according to her obituary in the Peninsula Daily News.
She and her husband, Roy, moved to the Olympic Peninsula in 1948.
Delo enjoyed playing bingo, was a 39-year member of the Eagles Aerie and an lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary.
According to her death certificate, she died at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 15 of cardiorespiratory failure, severe sepsis, pneumonia and a urinary tract infection.
The lawsuit makes the following allegations:
Tyler administered morphine or a morphine derivative to Delo when Delo’s breathing was impaired, according to the lawsuit.
“The morphine caused Delo to have long gaps between breaths and ultimately led to a cessation of her breathing,” according to the lawsuit.
“Continuing such treatment may have contributed to hastening the death,” Shah said.
When Tyler declared Delo deceased, there was no bruising on her body or report of blood on her face or bedding, nor were there reports of problems bagging or transporting her.
There also were no reports from the hospital or its employees “of accidentally dropping the bag containing Ms. Delo or other damage or mishandling of the deceased,” according to the lawsuit.
When Delo arrived at the mortuary, certified embalmer Samantha Miner opened the body bag and found a hospital sheet had damp blood staining it described as “a substantial amount.”
Delo’s eye was bruised and her nose misshapen.
“The broken nose is what allows us to say she was alive,” Kallis said Monday.
“No one knows how it happened. All we do know is that at every stage, she was face up.”
Miner also noticed substantial bruising on Delo’s right hand near her ring finger, according to the lawsuit.
It alleges she bruised her hand hitting and pushing the bag.
There also may have been some discoloration due to an improperly placed or inserted IV, according to the lawsuit.
Miner told a Port Angeles police officer who interviewed her about the incident that the injuries could not have been caused post-mortem.
“Plaintiff Galland has nightmares and anxiety about being buried alive or trapped in a dark place, and distress for the terror her mother must have felt,” according to the lawsuit.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].