Diver's family reaches deal in death suit

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Posted by on October 15, 2005 at 04:37:19:

Ambulance company claims no wrongdoing; parents close to settlement with county

The parents of an Aptos scuba diving instructor who died after a 2002 diving accident in Monterey have settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against ambulance company American Medical Response.

The case, which revealed allegations of heroin use by the ambulance crew that responded to San Carlos Beach to try to save Mollie Suh Yaley, 26, was scheduled to start trial Monday in Monterey County Superior Court.

The county, also a defendant in the case because of its responsibility for emergency medical services, is close to reaching a settlement with William and Arlene Yaley, attorneys said Friday.

Terms of the settlement were confidential. AMR admitted no liability or wrongdoing, which is standard practice in such settlements.

Earlier in the case, a judge ruled that AMR was covered by a state law that limits non-economic damages to $250,000 in medical malpractice cases.

If the case had gone to trial, that amount would have been the highest the Yaleys could have been awarded for their daughter's death. The ruling, which wasn't appealed, was a significant factor in the case, said Brian Evans, the couple's attorney.

Still, the Yaleys are satisfied with the settlement, he said.

"I believe the Yaleys found details of what happened to their daughter. And I think the county and AMR were exposed to the limitations of their operations that were going on," Evans said. "Hopefully they will address them. I'm going to leave it at that."

Yuk Law, an attorney for AMR, said, "We're happy this case is resolved short of trial, and I'm sure the family is too."

The suit accused the county and AMR of negligence. It took an AMR ambulance crew 12 minutes to reach the beach from nearby Pacific Grove, and an AMR paramedic ceased lifesaving efforts after working on Yaley for 22 minutes -- a county protocol that has since been changed.

One of two ambulance crew members, Alfonso Martorella, later told The Monterey County Herald that he and his partner, paramedic Bruce Faucett, used heroin the day Yaley was found unconscious in about 15 feet of water at the popular Cannery Row dive spot.

Faucett denied the allegations, but court documents show he took a leave of absence eight months after Yaley's death to receive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.

In June, the county hired a new ambulance company, Westmed Ambulance Inc., to take over countywide ambulance services Jan. 1. County officials denied that the reports of drug use by AMR employees affected the decision, but the county insisted on random drug testing for Westmed crews under the new contract.

County Counsel Charles McKee said the county "is close to finalizing a settlement" with the Yaleys.

"The family wanted to work with us on how we can improve the response scenarios," McKee said. "I anticipate the parties are working cooperatively."

Part of the pending agreement would be for the county to set new "cold water protocols" for emergency medical personnel responding to ocean calls, McKee said.

Evans wouldn't comment on ongoing negotiations with the county other than to say, "I think the county is willing to make some concessions."

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