The company that furnishes paramedics to the village of North Riverside has sued two village trustees and their political allies for libel, claiming that the group defamed them in statements made on their political websites.
On Feb. 26, Paramedic Services of Illinois Inc., or PSI, filed a two-count lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking more than $50,000 in damages from five members of the Transparency and Accountability in Politics Party running for office this spring — Rocco DeSantis, Peter Culafic, Marybelle Mandel, Annabelle Downs and Luigi “Gino” Labellarte — and Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, who is associated with the party.
The lawsuit stems from statements, since removed, made on the TAP campaign website, which is operated by DeSantis, and on Demopoulos’ personal political website.
Last summer, according to the lawsuit, Demopoulos suggested changes to the village’s paramedic service — getting rid of PSI in favor of in-house firefighter paramedics.
In a posting dated July 25, 2012, which is included as an exhibit to the complaint, Demopoulos called PSI “sub-par” and their paramedics “mediocre,” claiming that the company’s paramedics were “either looking to get onto another department or no one else will hire them, so they’re at the bottom of the totem pole.”
Both websites also claimed that PSI’s paramedics were not firefighters. According to the lawsuit, all of the paramedics employed by PSI in North Riverside are certified firefighter/paramedics.
That same language was incorporated into the TAP campaign website, according to the suit. Those statements have since been scrubbed from both websites.
DeSantis and Demopoulos told the Landmark on Monday night that they had not been served with the lawsuit yet and had no comment.
PSI in its lawsuit calls the statements malicious, and claims they were either published knowing the statements were false or published without regard to the truth.
To support their claims that the defendants’ statements were false, PSI points to a public hearing held Feb. 11 by the North Riverside village board’s police and fire committee, which is chaired by Hubert Hermanek Jr., who is running for mayor against DeSantis.
At that hearing, the chief and three lieutenants of the North Riverside Fire Department testified that there had been few complaints about PSI’s service to the village since the company first began working there in 1985.
The lawsuit states that the company has never received a complaint about patient care by its paramedics, that none has ever been named in a malpractice case and that none had ever been suspended or fired due to unsatisfactory quality of care.
In addition, the lawsuit notes that one of the paramedics assigned to North Riverside had worked in the village since 2000 and provides CPR training to all of the village’s police officers and many employees of the Recreation Department and North Riverside Public Library.
Two of the six paramedics assigned to North Riverside have also served as paid-on-call firefighters in North Riverside.
The comments made on the TAP website and Demopoulos’ website, according to the lawsuit, has had the effect of deterring other municipalities from contracting with them and “have the chilling effect of tainting the general public’s perception of the skill and quality of the paramedic/firefighters that are required to respond to an emergency call in the North Riverside community” and other communities where PSI is employed.
PSI is being represented in the case by Brian R. Holman of Holman & Stefanowicz LLC, a Chicago-based law firm.