Family seeks answers after man was confused for another person and mistakenly taken off life support

A hospital mix-up has left a family grieving over the loss of a relative who was confused for another person, according to WBBM

On April 29, Chicago authorities reportedly found Elisha Brittman, 69, naked, unresponsive and severely injured underneath a car. They brought him to Mercy Hospital, which, in turn, contacted the family of Alfonso Bennett and told them that police had determined that the patient was Bennett through mugshots.

Brenda Bennett-Johnson, one of Bennett's four sisters, told the station that her family initially expressed doubts about the man's identity when they arrived at the hospital, but medical staff kept insisting that law enforcement had gotten the person's name right.

"They kept saying [the Chicago Police Department] identified this person as our brother," she said.

As the man's condition worsened, Bennett's sisters decided to take him off a ventilator, and he soon died at a hospice. In the aftermath of his death, Bennett's family said they then purchased a casket and began making funeral arrangements for someone they had thought was their brother.

One day, however, one of the sisters purportedly called Bennett-Johnson and her other sister with some unexpected news — Bennett, who was actually alive but had rarely been in touch with his family, had just walked into her home. 

"'Brenda! Brenda! It’s Alfonso! It’s Alfonso!'" Bennett-Johnson recalled. "I said, 'You’re kidding!' I could have almost had a heart attack." 

Though a morgue later correctly identified the man Bennett's family had been caring for as Brittman through fingerprint scans, Bennett-Johnson said her family now regrets having made decisions on behalf of someone they didn't know. 

"It’s sad that it happened like that," she said. "If it was our brother and we had to go through that, that would have been a different thing." 

Upon learning of the mishap, Brittman's family acknowledged to WBBM that they had been searching for him for weeks and are currently searching for answers. 

"Was he just a person just out there that nobody cared for? Did they think that?" asked Mioshi Brittman, Elisha's great-niece. "The police dropped the ball on that. They can’t tell me they don’t fingerprint. It’s part of their policies and procedures."

This week, Elisha's family, along with Bennett's, took legal action by filing a joint lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Mercy Hospital. In it, they claim that law enforcement and hospital staff failed to correctly identify Brittman and forced Bennett's family to make a life-or-death decision on behalf of someone with whom they had no relation. Both families are seeking more than $50,000 in compensation for negligence, wrongful death and emotional distress. 

"The bottom line is this mistaken identity situation is something we think could have easily been avoided," said Cannon Lambert, the lawyer representing both families. "It can’t happen anymore."

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