Lawsuit filed over pregnant woman's ambulance death

The family of Joanne Rodriguez (left) has filed a lawsuit over her death. Her son, Xavier, was born through an emergency C-section and suffered brain damage, the lawsuit says. (Family photos)

The family of a pregnant woman who died in a Philadelphia ambulance has filed a lawsuit against the city and the companies that manufactured the emergency vehicle and its door lock.

The lawsuit says the the paramedics who responded to the home of Joanne Rodriguez in October 2012 weren't properly trained, resulting in delayed treatment for the 24-year-old woman, who was having trouble breathing after falling. Then, outside Temple University Hospital, the ambulance doors malfunctioned, leading to an additional delay, the attorneys say.

Rodriguez died of a pulmonary embolism; her child, Xavier, was born through an emergency C-section and suffered a brain injury, according to the family's attorneys.

The lawsuit claims paramedics April Smallwood and Lisa McCall didn't bring equipment to treat Rodriguez from their ambulance into her family's North Philadelphia home when they responded to call.

"Empty-handed, those medics couldn't help her," attorney Royce Smith said. Instead, according to the suit, they yelled at the 36-weeks-pregnant woman to "do your part."

With no medication, oxygen or a stretcher, it took 17 to 18 minutes to get Rodriguez outside and begin treating her, the lawyer said.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital in a few minutes, but the locks were jammed.

"Joanne and her unborn son were trapped," Smith said. A police officer who noticed a commotion around the ambulance pried the door open.

When Xavier was born his body was gray and cold, Smith said. The child was revived, but suffered permanent brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter said the city doesn't comment on pending lawsuits, and would respond through court filings.

The two paramedics were each suspended for two days in early 2013.

Eddie Rodriguez, Joanne Rodriguez's widower and Xavier's father, said he hopes the lawsuit "will make the city realize anyone who calls 911 deserves better than this."

Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443 or Follow @phillynews on Twitter.