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Chicago families sue after a case of mistaken identity allowed a man to be taken off life support

CHICAGO — Two Chicago families have sued the city and a hospital after an injured patient was incorrectly identified, and people who did not know him were given the decision to take him off life support.

A wrongful death lawsuit accuses the hospital and city of being negligent and inflicting intentional emotional distress on the two families by failing to properly identify the patient. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $50,000 from each defendant.

Mercy Hospital declined to comment on Thursday. A spokesperson for the City of Chicago and Chicago police did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Chicago police incorrectly identified a nude man with facial injuries they found unresponsive in late April as Alfonso Bennett, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Circuit Court of Cook County. Officials at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center then told Bennett’s sisters the injured man was their brother.

When the sisters saw the man in the hospital, they “continually and repeatedly expressed their serious doubts” that he was actually their brother, the lawsuit said. But hospital staff told them repeatedly that they just didn’t recognize him because of his facial injuries and because they were struggling to come to terms with a difficult situation, according to the suit.

The hospital told them that he needed to be removed from life support, the lawsuit said.

The sisters agreed, and the man they believed to be their brother was taken off life support. He died on May 23.

But Bennett showed up as his sisters were planning his service, shocking them, the lawsuit said. The man who had recently passed away was later identified by his fingerprints as Elisha Brittman, 69, who is unrelated to the Bennett family.

“I really want it to be clear that it is not acceptable for the hospital and law enforcement to perceive people as invisible,” the families’ attorney Cannon D. Lambert said in an interview on Thursday. “People matter.”

Chicago detectives are “looking into every aspect of this incident,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter in June.

“To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” he wrote.

What happened when police found the man

According to the lawsuit, Chicago police found the injured man with severe facial injuries under an automobile.

The victim was listed as “John Doe” when he arrived at Mercy Hospital. He didn’t have identification on him, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says that police used only a mugshot to identify the man as Bennett, days after he was admitted.

Guglielmi previously told CNN the victim was badly beaten. Witnesses had incorrectly told police the man’s name was Elijah Bennett, according to Guglielmi

He said the hospital called police for help identifying the patient because no family members came to claim him.

The lawsuit said the police “engaged in willful and wanton conduct by intentionally choosing not to fingerprint an injured, non-responsive man who required life-saving medical assistance.”

“It is untenable that (Chicago police) did not use fingerprints in this instance where in many other instances, they do,” Lambert said.

Brittman was recently buried

Brittman “died, at least in part” because Mercy Hospital and Chicago police “convinced people, not authorized to make medical decisions on his behalf, to make life affecting determinations that were a proximate cause of death,” the lawsuit said.

Around May 30, Bennett returned from an out-of-town excursion as his sisters planned his funeral, prompting one sister to ask the funeral home to contact police so the body could be taken to the Cook County Morgue. The morgue used fingerprints to identify the body as Brittman, the lawsuit said.

Mercy Hospital “negligently failed to insist on fingerprint confirmation identification purposes” before sharing medical information with Bennett’s family and advising them to remove the Brittman from life support, the lawsuit said.

Brittman had 12 brothers and sisters, according to Lambert. He was an avid reader and “a gentle giant of sorts,” Lambert said.

Brittman was reunited with his family and buried on June 29, according to Lambert.

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