A federal judge has dismissed a Minneapolis woman's lawsuit alleging Hennepin Healthcare medical staff forcibly sedated her with ketamine in her apartment and enrolled her in a drug study without consent.
Brittany Buckley sued the hospital and paramedics last November, alleging they violated her civil rights, used excessive force and committed medical malpractice in the 2017 incident. After suffering breathing problems after the ketamine injection, Buckley woke up the next day with a tube down her throat and little memory of the incident.
In court, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, which represents the hospital, argued Buckley and her lawyer didn't adequately show in case law how her rights were violated. At the time of the injections, Buckley was "depressed and drinking alcohol," which compromised her competency to make decisions herself, attorney Katherine Flom wrote in a motion.
Judge Joan Ericksen ruled in favor of the hospital last week, dismissing all six of Buckley's allegations.
In an interview Monday, Buckley said she was surprised and disappointed at Ericksen's decision. She plans to appeal in federal court and refile the lawsuit in state court.
Buckley said she hopes her legal battle raises public awareness about how the hospital treats vulnerable patients. "The fight is not over to hold them accountable," she said.
The Star Tribune first reported Buckley's story in June 2018.
The previous December, depressed on the anniversary of her father's death, Buckley had been drinking wine in her northeast Minneapolis apartment. A friend, knowing Buckley was trying to quit drinking, called 911 and asked for a welfare check.
Buckley acknowledges she was drunk and combative with officers when they carried her to an ambulance, which she feared she couldn't afford. Paramedics restrained her on a gurney, according to the suit, and forcibly injected her with ketamine.
Before the shot, paramedics noted that Buckley appeared "agitated" and "anxious" but was attentive and smiling, according to medical records, which Buckley shared with the Star Tribune. The drug took hold in two minutes, according to the hospital records. In four minutes, she struggled to breathe, and paramedics put her on oxygen on the way to the hospital.
When she woke up at the downtown hospital, staff gave Buckley a waiver informing her she'd been enrolled in a drug trial on ketamine.
Following the reports of Buckley and others being sedated against their objections, hospital leadership said they would discontinue the study. Inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration later said researchers kept the ketamine study going for months. That investigation is ongoing.
In interviews and public meetings, Hennepin Healthcare leadership say they use ketamine and other sedatives as a potentially lifesaving measure when patients show signs of dangerous agitation levels. The drug study did not change that treatment, they say, and only entailed keeping records afterward to compare the effects of ketamine and another sedative.
"The dismissal of the federal lawsuit is consistent with our position that the patient was treated appropriately and within the standard of care," said the hospital in a statement. "We follow best practices about when and how to use sedatives, ensuring that we put the safety and welfare of our patients first."
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036