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Thursday, Dec 13 2012 11:00 PM

Harb verdict offers lessons in preparation

By The Bakersfield Californian

The fact that a jury has cleared the city of Bakersfield and Hall Ambulance of negligence in a civil case brought by the family of Dr. Mohamad Harb doesn't leave us feeling reassured that the two defendant parties acted entirely appropriately that day in 2007 when Harb suffered a stroke while driving home from work. Too much conflicting and contradictory evidence was presented at trial for us to comfortably reach that conclusion.

But in civil cases such as this, the jury isn't required to find that defendants acted inappropriately -- only that they were negligent. Plaintiffs must prove negligence based on a preponderance of evidence. If the answer is inconclusive, as it seems to have been, then the jury must side with the defendants.

Verdict aside, some glaring issues that raise questions about training both in the Bakersfield Police Department and at Hall Ambulance came to light during the trial.

In particular, Hall paramedic Brian Dumont stated that he operates on the assumption that police have the ultimate authority at an accident scene. But an expert witness cited state law that gives the head paramedic authority over patient care at an accident scene. We hope Hall Ambulance has investigated this ambiguity and clarified things with its staff.

The BPD also could learn from this incident. First and foremost, officers should have basic training in distinguishing the signs of a medical emergency, such as stroke, from intoxication, since the two can exhibit similar symptoms. Delayed treatment may not have been a factor in the severity of Harb's stroke (medical experts gave conflicting testimony on this topic, too), but medical studies have documented that timing is critical in most stroke cases, and police should be taught this as part of basic emergency training.

The question of negligence in this case may have been elusive but it's clear no one wants to see this sort of tragedy repeated. To that end, the city, if it hasn't already, must ensure that its police officers are trained to decipher medical emergencies. Likewise, Hall Ambulance should ensure its staff is trained to make on-scene decisions that both comply with state law and keep patient safety paramount.

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