Two families in Chicago are suing after a disfigured man was falsely identified and eventually taken off life support by a family that was not his.
Elisha Brittman was misidentified as Alfonso Bennett, and died with Bennett’s family at his side instead of his own.
The families’ lawsuit names the City of Chicago and Mercy Hospital in a wrongful death action, asserting police and hospital workers failed to correctly identify 66-year-old Brittman.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday (July 3), also claims hospital workers talked the Bennett family into making life-and-death decisions on behalf of a man who was not their relative, CBS Chicago reports.
Police discovered a naked and unresponsive Brittman under a vehicle on Chicago’s South Side on April 29. He was brought to Mercy Hospital with severe injuries and was listed as a John Doe.
Two weeks later, Bennett’s sister got a call from the hospital, saying he was in ICU and had been identified through mugshots. Cannon Lambert, the attorney representing the families, said his sisters told doctors several times they didn’t think the John Doe was Alfonso.
Lambert said, as per CBS Chicago:
The bottom line is this mistaken identity situation is something we think could have easily been avoided. It can’t happen anymore.
Later, when Brittman grew weaker, Bennett’s family signed papers to take him off life support and perform a tracheotomy. He then went into a hospice, where he died.
After they had made funeral arrangements for what they believed to be Bennett, he walked through his sister’s front door, alive and well. Elisha Brittman was later was identified at the morgue through fingerprints.
Fox News reports the families are accusing the Chicago Police Department and Mercy Hospital of willful misconduct and negligence for using mugshots – and not fingerprints – to identify a man whose face was severely disfigured.
The lawsuit argues that police should have used fingerprint identification instead of a mugshot to offer a ‘definitive’ identification.
Lambert explained, as per the Chicago Sun-Times:
[Elisha] was so badly beaten that comparing a mugshot to his badly beaten face was virtually worthless. It would have been easy to fingerprint. It’s something that the police can do. For John Doe to sit for six days with no one knowing who he is… it’s unconscionable.
Brittman’s family said he had been missing for weeks, with his niece, Mioshi Brittman, claiming police dismissed her when she tried to file a missing person’s report.
Mioshi told the Chicago Sun-Times she continued to look for her uncle by herself without success, adding: ‘I didn’t just search for him one day. It was every day’.
Each family is seeking $50,000 to compensate for the wrongful death of Elisha Brittman and the emotional trauma of the ordeal.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).