American Homepatient admits to removing equipment, but denies fault in suffocation case

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Sep 23, 2013


The defendants in a case where the son of a deceased woman claims she suffocated to death after her medical equipment stopped working during a power outage deny the allegations against them and demand a jury trial.

Darren Spruill filed the suit July 15, claiming American Homepatient Inc. removed some equipment from the home of his mother Shirley A. Spruill. The equipment taken included a back-up battery powered oxygen concentrator that would have provided a consistent flow of oxygen in case of a power outage.

Shirley Spruill, according to the complaint, required oxygen and the related equipment to assist her in breathing after suffering from lung cancer and a compromised pulmonary and respiratory system.

Prior to her death, the complaint states she was discharged from Alton Memorial Hospital and placed under the care of BJC Home Services, which brought oxygen equipment to her home in Alton.

But, on Dec. 20, Spruill's suit asserts that American Homepatient removed some of the equipment, including the battery powered portable oxygen concentrator, without authority to do so.

American Homepatient admitted to providing and removing the equipment from Shirley Spurill’s home, but denied any other faults brought against them.

At about 4 p.m. on Dec. 20, a windstorm struck Alton, causing a tree to fall and damage a transformer that provided power to Shirley Spruill’s home. Without electricity during the outage, her oxygen equipment stopped working, which the state contends caused to her to suffocate and die.

“While plaintiff’s decedent Shirley A. Spruill was suffocating, she suffered substantial pain, discomfort, fright, anxiety and became aware that she was then and there dying,” the complaint states.

American Homepatient filed affirmative defenses with its answer on Aug. 23, claiming the complaint fails to list a cause of action upon which relief can be granted; any injuries or damages sustained were caused by parties other than the defendant; and any injuries and damages were caused by intervening acts (windstorm and power outage) over which the defendant had no control.

Spruill's suit seeks a judgment of more than $100,000.

Alton attorney Robert D. Larson represents him. Missouri attorney James A. Gottschalk represents American Homepatient.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 13-L-1165

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