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Jake Anderson was celebrating his first year as a freshman at the University of Minnesota until the early hours of a December morning in 2013. Six or seven hours later, first responders found Anderson in a hypothermic state face down, slumped over a rail along the Mississippi River near Minneapolis.
Anderson had "no pulse and no breathing and was frozen, indicating obvious death" according to a report from the fire officials that found him, but his parents don't think rescuers did enough to revive their son. Now the Andersons are suing first responders, including police, fire, and medical center personnel, claiming they are liable for wrongful death.
No Pulse, but Perhaps Not Dead
"We assumed everything was done to save him when they found him," Kristi Anderson told the Star Tribune. "When they come and tell you at 2 in the afternoon that your son is dead, you're presupposing that they have taken every measure to save him." "Everybody who lived through hypothermia was found by somebody who cared about them and did something about it," added Bill Anderson.
The Anderson's lawsuit claims that Minneapolis fire officials failed to recognize her son as a hypothermia victim and declared him dead after less than 90 seconds of assessment. The suit also cites several instances of young men and women surviving up to 12 hours of exposure to subzero temperatures, and claims that the city's own standard operating procedure for rescue personnel advises that potential victims must remain "cold in a warm environment" or have signs of "obvious mortal trauma" before they can be declared dead.
In many states, first responders are protected by sovereign immunity, which means they cannot be sued without consent and cannot be held liable for actions taken within their official capacity. In those jurisdictions where first responder lawsuits are permitted, the right may be limited to specific situations, like instances of intentional harm, recklessness, or gross negligence.
"Jake Anderson's death is tragic," the Minneapolis city attorney's office said in a released statement. "However, first responders in the city of Minneapolis, including fire and police personnel, are not responsible for his death. We can only imagine the grief Mr. Anderson's parents, family and friends are experiencing." The Anderson family is seeking $75,000 per plaintiff for their son's death.