November 14, 2006
The City of Philadelphia has settled a federal lawsuit filed by a man who alleged emergency paramedics in 2001 refused to provide him appropriate care after learning he had AIDS.
In his civil rights suit filed in 2003, John Gill Smith described how paramedics responded to a call when he was having chest pains. When his partner told the arriving paramedics that Smith had AIDS, the suit stated, one paramedic left the house. The remaining paramedic shouted at Smith: "Cover your face or I'm not going to help you," the suit said. Paramedics allegedly forced Smith's partner and a friend to move Smith into the ambulance to take him to the emergency room.
A settlement was finally reached between the city, Smith, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania -- which had litigated a similar case against Philadelphia in 1993 involving a city rescue crew -- and the U.S. Justice Department, which joined the case on Smith's behalf. Under the agreement, the city will pay $50,000 to Smith and provide mandatory semi-annual training for city paramedics and emergency medical personnel. For three years, the city will submit documentation of its efforts for review by the federal court in Philadelphia. The city denies violating any laws and said it settled to avoid the "expense and inconvenience of further litigation."
Smith's suit shows the need for continuing education efforts regarding diseases such as AIDS, said Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project. Smith, who no longer lives in Philadelphia, "feels a tremendous relief at finally getting this settlement," said Goldfein. "This was never about money. That was about a very scary thing that happened to [Smith] that [Smith] didn't want to happen to anybody else."