Mistaken Identity Led to Wrong Man Being Taken off Life Support, Lawsuit Says

Elisha Brittman (pictured) was taken off life support by the wrong family in a case of mistaken identity, according to a lawsuit.
Elisha Brittman (pictured) was taken off life support by the wrong family in a case of mistaken identity, according to a lawsuit. Family Photo

Two families are suing Chicago's Mercy Hospital and the city's police department after the wrong man was taken off life support in a case of mistaken identity.

The saga began when members of Alfonso Bennett's family were called to the hospital to identify him, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Cook County. 

The man believed to be Bennett had been identified as him by police, who used mugshots in the identification, the suit states. The man had been found naked and injured beneath a car on the South Side, and was unresponsive. 

According to the suit, Bennett's relatives did not think the man looked like him and said so, but they said they were told they were wrong.

"They were continually saying to the medical staff, 'We don't think this is our brother,'" attorney Cannon Lambert, who is representing both families, told InsideEdition.com. "They were talked into the idea that he was."

"I said, 'Doc, I understand what you are saying, but I cannot recognize him as my brother. He was beaten,'" Bennett's sister Rosie Brooks told reporters at a press conference, according to WLS.

Eventually, the man thought to be Bennett was moved to hospice care and taken off life support, the suit states. He died a few days later, and Bennett's family began funeral preparations.

But then came a shocking discovery: The real Bennett, who had been out of town on a trip, showed up at a friend's barbecue, alive and perfectly healthy, according to the suit. 

"They couldn't believe it," said Lambert. "They said, 'We thought you were dead.' [Bennett] didn't understand."

So who had died? As it turned out the man thought to be Bennett was actually Elisha Brittman. He was identified with fingerprinting at the local morgue following the snafu. 

When contacted about his death, Brittman's family couldn't believe it. 

"Mr. Brittman had 12 brothers and sisters," said Lambert. "He lived with his sister and they saw him every day. When he didn't come home, they started looking for him."

"I didn't just search for him one day. It was every day," Mioshi Brittman, the man's niece, said at the news conference.

“Our hearts go out to the Brittman family because we were by his side,” Bennett's third sister, Brenda Bennett-Johnson, told WBBM.

The two families have joined together in the lawsuit, accusing both Mercy Hospital and the Chicago Police Department of negligence.

"Rosie and Yolanda and Brenda, they feel like they were used to kill somebody. Brenda's having nightmares," said Lambert. "They feel like they were an instrument used in somebody's death."

He added: "They also feel a little guilty for feeling glad that their brother's not deceased."

Police told The Chicago Tribune that they are investigating what exactly happened. 

"To say that we currently have questions is an understatement,” the department said in a statement. “We have detectives looking into every aspect of this incident — from the incident response to the circumstances leading to the hospitalization and the notification of family members.”

But Brooks, Bennett's sister, accused police of not doing enough. 

"To me that means black lives don’t matter,” she said. "You carried him to Mercy, didn’t even know who he was and didn’t even take the time to find out."

"I think the reality of it is, you've got people that are deemed to be invisible," said Lambert. "That should never be the case."

The hospital told WLS that it could not comment on pending litigation. 

InsideEdition.com has reached out to Mercy Hospital, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department for comment on the lawsuit. 

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