A major US hospital is facing legal action for switching off a patient’s life support system after approaching the wrong family for consent.
In April, Chicago’s Mercy Hospital admitted an unidentified unconscious man who had been found by police beneath a car, having sustained serious facial injuries.
Using mugshots, Chicago Police identified the man as Alfonso Bennett, and the hospital contacted his next of kin a fortnight later.
Mr Bennett’s sister, Rosie Brooks, rushed to hospital, having been told he was in intensive care.
Neither she, nor her sister Brenda Bennett-Johnson, could identify the man in the hospital bed. They had him on the ventilator, and they had a tube in his mouth," Ms Brooks told Chicago’s CBS television station.
The man was fading, and the sisters signed papers authorising the hospital to take him off the ventilator.
However, while making the funeral arrangements, the women received a phone call from another sister saying that Alfonso Bennett had just walked through her front door.
Police then took fingerprints from the body, then identified as Elisha Brittman, 69, who had been missing for some time.
Both families are taking legal action against the City of Chicago and Mercy Hospital, alleging that police and the hospital failed to identify Mr Brittman.
It Is alleged that Mr Bennett’s families were made to take a life and death decision over a man who was not their relative.
The families are also seeking compensation for emotional distress.
Patricia Van Pelt, a state senator, said the police should have used DNA to try to establish the man’s identity.
Chicago police have said that relying on fingerprints for identification was ineffective if the individual did not have a criminal record. "To say that we currently have questions is an understatement," a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said.
"We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident – from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalisation and the notification of family members. Details to follow as we learn more."
Mercy Hospital declined to comment, telling the Telegraph it did not "have a statement at this time".