A well-known San Diego hospital and physician face a wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday that claims they did not stop a patient from driving before she killed a La Jolla woman in October of 2014.
Melissa Ratcliff, 45, vice president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, was running errands and had been unloading her car in the 7700-block of Girard when she was hit and killed.
Mary O'Neil, 91, backed out of a nearby parking spot on the west side of the street, crossed into the other side and rammed into Ratcliff, San Diego police said.
The lawsuit claims O'Neil should never have been driving in the first place and that those caring for her knew it.
Ratcliff had a successful career in national politics and was the mother of three young children.
“They will never again have their mother with them. Some days are better than others,” the kids’ father Bennet Ratcliff said.
Ratcliff spoke with NBC7 by computer from upstate New York.
The lawsuit claims, Dr. Gaston Molina and Scripps Health were aware O'Neil was unfit to drive when she crashed into Ratcliff.
“The law is there to keep the rest of us safe from their patients that can't drive,” Ratcliff’s attorney Dan Gilleon said.
Gilleon, who represents the Ratcliff family, claims O'Neil's medical records show she suffered debilitating conditions including diabetes, Neuropathy and reported losing spatial awareness.
“It’s their responsibility to say, ‘Hey a wait a minute you shouldn't be driving’ but they didn't,” Ratcliff said.
When O'Neil backed into Ratcliff, court records indicate she told police, the car suddenly accelerated in reverse and she could not locate the brake pedal.
“They are just as responsible for that as the driver is,” Gilleon said referring to O’Neil’s physician’s office.
California Health codes require caregivers to report patients with disorders that could be characterized by lapses of consciousness.
“Most doctors realize as soon as they report their patient to the DMV they are going to lose that business and not be happy about it,” Gilleon said.
This case won't settle the "how old is too old to drive" debate, but may better define the symptoms of aging that could lead to tragic mistakes.
NBC 7 reached out to Scripps Health before the report was aired. The following day, we received a statement from Janice Collins, Senior Director of Public and Community Relations.
“Scripps has been named as a defendant in this case. For that reason and to protect the privacy of our patients, we are unable to comment further,” Collins wrote.