Brooklyn Woman Pulled Life Support of Total Stranger After Hospital Claimed It Was Her Brother, Lawsuit Says

In a lawsuit, a Brooklyn woman has said she gave consent for a stranger's life-support to be pulled after a tragic error by New York City's St. Barnabas Hospital.

Shirell Powell, 48, of Kings County, alleged the Bronx hospital mistakenly said her brother, Frederick Williams, had suffered severe brain damage from a narcotics overdose and was not expected to survive. Her real sibling, the suit says, had been arrested and was in jail.

The lawsuit claimed the overdose patient—Freddy Clarence Williams, 40—was admitted under the wrong patient profile, leaving Powell with the impression her brother was on the verge of death. "Frederick Williams and Freddy Clarence Williams are different people," it said.

The woman's brother is also 40 years old but has no middle name.

The legal action, filed with the Bronx County Clerk on January 18, was first reported by the New York Post. The Defendants are St. Barnabas Hospital and two medical employees.

"As a direct result of defendants breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff, [Powell] authorized the withdrawal of medical treatment to a third party that was not her brother," noted the lawsuit, which is being handled by the Bronx Supreme Court. "As a direct result of defendants' breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff, plaintiff was under the belief that her brother was dead."

The filing said it was July 15 last year when Freddy Clarence Williams had been admitted to the hospital in an unconscious state. The man had his social security card on his possession.

The lawsuit said he was labeled under the wrong profile, meaning Powell was contacted as a next-of-kin. Around the same time, a doctor "negligently" said her brother had been admitted. He also said "he did not think that Frederick Williams would make it," the lawsuit added.

Roughly two days later, Powell was told about the brain damage to the man by a second doctor. She remained at the his bedside until July 29 when life support was withdrawn with the sister's consent. Throughout this time, the lawsuit said the plaintiff believed he was her brother.

The man, a stranger, was pronounced dead by St. Barnabas Hospital the same day.

Powell told The New York Post the man had strongly resembled her brother but had "tubes in his mouth" and was wearing a neck brace. His body had also been swollen, she said.

It wasn't until mid-August last year that the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found the body to be Freddy Clarence Williams, the suit alleged. At the same time, Powell's brother had been in jail since July after being arrested in lower Manhattan, the New York Post said.

The sister is now seeking damages from the three defendants. "I nearly fainted because I killed somebody that I didn't even know," Powell lamented to the New York Post. "I gave consent."

"I barely sleep thinking about this all the time,'' she added.

"To actually stand over him and watch this man take his last breath—sometimes I can't even talk about it because I get upset and start crying. On the one hand, I'm thankful that it wasn't [my brother]. On the other hand, I killed somebody that was a dad or a brother."

When contacted by the New York Post, hospital spokesman Steven Clark said: "We don't feel there is any merit to this claim." The medical examiner said it could not release details of the deceased stranger due to privacy concerns. St. Barnabas Hospital did not immediately respond to request for comment.