Two Chicago families have filed a lawsuit after a case of mistaken identity led one family to remove life support from a badly beaten member of the other family and then watch him die.
Relatives of Alfonso Bennett were deep into their mourning and planning his funeral when Bennett, returning from a trip out of town, walked in the door of his sister’s home in May.
The shock led to the discovery — confirmed by a belated fingerprint match with the body at the morgue — that the deceased actually was Elisha Brittman, according to the lawsuit jointly filed last week in Cook County court by the families of both men.
The lawsuit faults the hospital and the city of Chicago, through its police department, of allegedly failing to properly identify Brittman, 69, who was found April 29 under a car on the city’s south side naked, unresponsive and with injuries to his face that made him unrecognizable, reports the Chicago Tribune.
According to the lawsuit, Brittman was admitted as a John Doe to Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, where he languished for two weeks before police “incorrectly identified” him as Bennett on the basis of a mug shot, reports NBC News.
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After the hospital reached out to Bennett’s family to say he was in the intensive care unit, his relatives showed up and told the staff it didn’t look like him, the lawsuit states.
“I said, ‘How did you all verify that this is Alfonso Bennett?,'” his sister, Rosie Brooks, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, according to the Tribune. “They said, ‘Through the Chicago Police Department.'”
When Bennett’s family continued to insist the disfigured man was not Bennett, “Rosie Brooks and her sisters were repeatedly told that he was and that they needed to accept it,” according to the lawsuit. The hospital staff told them “the situation was a difficult one to handle,” and thus they were in denial, according to the lawsuit.
At the alleged urging of hospital staff as the man’s condition deteriorated, Bennett’s family eventually agreed to have the man removed from life support and taken to a hospice, where he died three days later on May 23 with Bennett’s family by his side, according to the lawsuit.
“The bottom line is this mistaken identity situation is something we think could have easily been avoided,” said Cannon Lambert, the attorney representing the families, according to CBS Chicago. “It can’t happen anymore.”
Chicago police say it’s a privacy violation to fingerprint someone who hasn’t been arrested, but they have launched an investigation into the mixup, according to the Tribune.
“To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” the department said in a statement. “We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident — from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members.”
A spokesman for Mercy Hospital responded to a request from PEOPLE by writing in an email, “Mercy is not providing at statement at this time.”
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