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Mon County jury awards woman $885 K in lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Monongalia County jury has awarded a woman $885,000 in a lawsuit against the county's 911 department concerning the death of her husband.

Judith Johnson sued the Monongalia County Commission, which is responsible for the Monongalia County Office of Emergency Management, over the 2008 death of her husband, Joseph.

After a weeklong trial, jurors decided last week the conduct of the 911 employees amounted to willful or wanton misconduct.

Jan-Care Ambulance Service, which was also named in the lawsuit, settled for $75,000 before trial.

According to court documents, on May 11, 2008 at 11:34 a.m., Judith Johnson called 911, stating her 60-year-old husband was having trouble breathing.

A 911 operator "assured" Johnson an ambulance was being sent to her Star City residence, documents state. No one informed her an ambulance was unavailable, according to the complaint.

By 11:40 a.m., Judith Johnson called 911 again.

"I wish they would hurry; he can't get his breath," and "It's hard when you can't get your breath," the suit stated.

Joseph had one lung, a result of being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, according to his attorney, Bader Giggenbach.

In the past, when Judith Johnson called 911, an ambulance arrived at her house in two to three minutes, according to documents.

During her second call, the 911 operator confirmed the Johnsons' address and ended the call, saying, "We're trying to get someone out there," the complaint stated.

 Ambulances didn't respond to the dispatcher's signals, according to the complaint. At 11:46 a.m., Judith Johnson called 911 again.

"During the third call, Mrs. Johnson stated that she cannot not wait any longer, that she is going to take her husband to the emergency room, and that 'he is not breathing,' " the complaint stated.

During that call, for the first time, according to the complaint, 911 dispatchers informed Judith Johnson there weren't any ambulances available. She then asked the dispatcher to call Ruby Memorial Hospital to tell them she was on her way. The dispatcher agreed to, the complaint stated.

But when the Johnsons pulled up to the emergency room, no one was waiting for them, documents stated. Joseph Johnson died the next day.

Giggenbach said a pulmonologist testified during the trial if Joseph Johnson had received oxygen five minutes sooner, he would have survived.

"Mr. Johnson is missed greatly by his wife and family, but the verdict does give them some justice in their sorrow," Giggenbach said.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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