BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Paramedics arrived at the well-maintained house in suburban Boynton Beach, knocked and got no answer. The three-member crew left after five minutes, concluding no one was home.
Seymour Reiner pulled into the driveway an hour later with his grandson. who had just flown in to enjoy a family Thanksgiving dinner. They found Reiner's wife of 62 years dead, her home phone next to her. Sidell Reiner, 81, had bled to death after a piece of glassware fell and cut her foot as she set the dining room table.
She had tried to phone for help, repeatedly dialing "0" as she desperately clung to consciousness. Her husband's attorneys argue she could and should have been saved, but her agonizing calls for medical aid went unanswered because of breakdowns in communication between a phone operator, emergency dispatchers and paramedics.
"Hurry! Please!" Reiner cried out in her first phone call. "I need an ambulance! I'm bleeding all over the place!"
More than 600 pages of court depositions along with a recently released recording of that first call made by Reiner shed new light on how mistakes led to her dying alone, said Gary M. Cohen, lead attorney for Reiner's husband. Seymour Reiner is suing Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, the city of Boynton Beach, phone provider Comcast and Deltacom, which was contracted by Comcast to provide operator services.
"All four of these defendants had independent and overlapping responsibilities," Cohen said. "They all managed to get it wrong. Had any of them done their job, Mrs. Reiner would be alive."
All the defendants contend they fulfilled their legal duties in handling Reiner's Nov. 26, 2009, phone calls, during which she grew increasingly panicked and difficult to understand. Because Reiner dialed "0," it created a situation where her address didn't automatically show up to Boynton Beach emergency dispatchers when her calls were transferred to them.
"If she had dialed 911 to begin with, this never would have happened," said Michael Burke, an attorney for the city of Boynton Beach.
A review of the audio recording of Reiner's first call indicates she clearly gave a Deltacom operator her address and a description of how she had hurt herself.
"Get me an ambulance!" exclaimed Reiner as she gasped in pain. "Boynton Beach, Florida. … I cut myself with glass and it must have been a vein." She then provided the operator with her complete address — number and street.
After the Deltacom operator transferred the call to a Boynton Beach dispatcher, Reiner's voice becomes harder to understand, the audio recordings show. Two Boynton Beach emergency dispatchers in separate phone calls asked the Deltacom operator if she had Reiner's address. The Deltacom operator said she couldn't understand Reiner and was unable to find any information related to the injured woman's phone number.
Attorneys for Alabama-based Deltacom and Comcast have argued in court that the only legal duty they had was to make sure the call was transferred to emergency dispatchers in a reasonable time. Reiner was connected to a Boynton Beach dispatcher in about one minute, the separate legal teams for Deltacom and Comcast have said.
Reiner had the ability to call 911, but didn't, Deltacom's attorney, Josh Polsky, also told a July court hearing.
Cohen countered that when a caller dials "0" on a Comcast phone line, an automated recording comes on offering services in English and Spanish. After making the selection, the recording says: "If your call is a 911 emergency, please press 0."
He said he doesn't understand how the operator couldn't track down Reiner's address. In addition, Reiner was never told by either the Deltacom operator or Boynton Beach dispatchers to dial 911, Cohen said.
Polsky has argued in court it's unclear if at the time of Reiner's phone call that Comcast had an automated recording when people called "0," or if an operator directly answered the phone. Both Deltacom and Comcast declined to comment on the case to the Sun Sentinel, citing the pending litigation, in which Seymour Reiner is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Boynton Beach emergency dispatchers twice spoke with Reiner after Deltacom put through her calls and were able to make out her house number and part of her street address through her moans. That's when Boynton Beach dispatchers figured out that Reiner lived in unincorporated Palm Beach County.
A Boynton Beach dispatcher then called Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue to inform them that Reiner may "be having a stroke or something."
Lt. Grant Lanier, head of the Boynton Beach Police Department's communications division, said in a June 1 deposition that his dispatchers had indicated to Palm Beach County the call was "pretty much the highest level of emergency that you could have."
The Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue paramedics who went to Reiner's house said in depositions that they were only told it was an "unknown medical" situation. While they came from a fire-rescue station only about a