Wrong family takes man off life support in Chicago

Relatives didn't realise until the man turned up at a BBQ.
Relatives didn't realise until the man turned up at a BBQ. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Two American families are distraught after a man was taken off life support by consent of the wrong family.

In April, a man was found with facial injuries lying unconscious beneath a car in Chicago and taken to Mercy Hospital.

Police identified him as Alfonso Bennett and in May, Bennett's relatives were contacted by the hospital.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Bennett's sister, Rosie, said she questioned police on their verification process and was told mug shots had been used. 

On May 20, doctors told Bennett's family that the man needed to be taken off life support, the family says. 

Three days later, he died. But as the family were planning his funeral, Bennett turned up at a family barbeque, shocking his relatives.

After fingerprinting the dead man, police realised he was actually 69-year-old Elisha Brittman, whose family had been looking for him.

State Senator Patricia Van Pelt told CBS that it was a horrific case. 

"To just take a mugshot and use that to identify a person who clearly has had injuries to his face is shocking," she said.

Van Pelt is looking at introducing legislation to make fingerprinting mandatory in John Doe cases.

A spokesperson for the local police association said fingerprinting can be an issue if the unidentified person has never been fingerprinted before, but Van Pelt said taking DNA should be the next step.

Brittman's great niece, Mioshi Brittman, said if fingerprinting had been mandatory, the wrong family wouldn't have been with the man when he died. 

"We wouldn’t even be sitting here," she told CBS.

"We would have been by his side, there talking, providing and taking care of him. This wouldn’t even have been a mishap."

Both families are now planning to sue the hospital and the city of Chicago for negligence and for inflicting emotional distress.

Chicago police and Mercy Hospital say the Bennett family identified the man as their relative, but the family say they put their trust in the police, reports CBS.