Walsh family sues for negligence

John "Jack" Walsh Jr.

DERRY — Nearly a year after John "Jack" Walsh Jr. wandered from Parkland Medical Center and was later found dead in the woods nearby, his family is suing the hospital, Pleasant Valley Nursing Center and Action Ambulance — three parties they say were responsible for Walsh's safety at the time.

In a complaint filed in Rockingham Superior Court on Tuesday, Attorney Michael Rainboth wrote that Walsh's sisters and co-administrators of his estate, Joanne Simpson and Judy Zaremba, are seeking compensation for damages and losses. No dollar figure is mentioned in the filing.

Their 63-year-old brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been a ward of the state since 2010, according to the complaint. The family believed Walsh suffered from other mental health issues, including dementia and autism. His declining health and inability to care for himself landed him at Pleasant Valley Nursing Center in early November 2016.

Walsh was transported on Dec. 13, 2016 to Parkland Medical Center by Action Ambulance to undergo scheduled radiology testing on his throat the day he disappeared.  

"Neither sister had been informed of this medical appointment," the complaint says. "Mr. Walsh's guardian did not give consent."

The two had spent that December afternoon with Walsh, they recalled in the court documents. After eating lunch together, one of them received a call from the nursing home that Walsh was needed back there so he could be brought to his appointment.

The complaint alleges that an employee of the ambulance company drove Walsh to the hospital and signed him in for his 1:30 p.m. appointment at 1:04 p.m. She allegedly instructed Walsh to have a seat in the waiting area before handing him paperwork with her phone number and leaving.

According to the complaint, the ambulance driver shared her information with a member of the medical staff and gave them the same instructions — to call when Walsh was ready to go home.

When it was time for Walsh to see a doctor, a nurse called his name to no avail, the complaint reads.

"For some reason, the employee at Parkland Medical Center did not undertake a search for Mr. Walsh, nor did she contact Pleasant Valley or Action Ambulance Services," the complaint says.

The documents go on to say that it was 6:30 p.m. before Walsh's family received a call from someone at Pleasant Valley stating that Walsh was not accounted for at dinner. At 7:30 p.m., Derry police contacted the family to say a search had begun.

A spokesperson from Parkland Medical Center sent the following statement to The Eagle-Tribune on Tuesday via email — "We would like to express our deepest sympathy to the Walsh family. As soon as we were aware of the situation, Parkland reached out to local authorities providing them with all of the information we had. While this was an extremely unfortunate situation, we believe our staff acted appropriately and we did all we could to support the local authorities."

An off-duty Derry police officer was hiking in the woods off Rockingham Road between Windham Road and Bradford Street when he found Walsh's remains in a swampy brook on March 10. He was less than a mile from the hospital.

Police said they conducted a line search close to the area where Walsh's body was eventually found. They noted that K-9 officers were also used, but they were never able to pick up Walsh's scent.

According to Chief Forensic Investigator Kim Fallon, Walsh died because of an enlarged heart the same day he went missing.

"The cause of death is listed as probable idiopathic cardiac hypertrophy," she said.

According to court documents, a cut on Walsh's head and where he was found at the based of a small tree near water suggests that he may have fallen and drowned.

According to the lawsuit, the family believes that negligence from Parkland, Pleasant Valley and Action Ambulance resulted in "painful injuries, mental pain and suffering, pre-death fright, loss of enjoyment of life and other damages."

Walsh, who lived most of his life in Plaistow, has been described as an avid sports fan, who especially loved the Red Sox and New England Patriots. He was laid to rest on March 20.

"Jack's death should never have happened," his sister, Simpson, said. "We hope this tragedy, although it hurt our family very much, will in some way benefit the public by not allowing this type of carelessness to happen again."

As of press time Tuesday, Action Ambulance had not provided a comment for publication. A spokesperson from Pleasant Valley said they had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

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