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Hawaii Man Sues State, Claims False Missile Alert Caused Heart Attack

A Hawaii man filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking unspecified damages against the state, claiming a false ballistic missile alert earlier this year caused him to have a heart attack, NBC News reported.

James Sean Shields and his girlfriend Brenda Reichel are both listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit. In addition to the state, Vern Miyagi, former head of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, is listed as a defendant, according to CNN. Miyagi has since resigned from his position.

The lawsuit claims the defendants are guilty of “systematic gross negligence” for mismanagement of the emergency alert system and for the 38-minute delay in issuing an “all clear” message retracting the alert.

Shields and Reichel were driving to the beach on Jan. 13, 2018, when their cellphones received a text message alert about a ballistic missile heading toward Hawaii. The 8:07 a.m. warning said, “This is not a drill,” and called it an “extreme alert.” Residents were told to seek immediate shelter.

After arriving at the beach, Shields started feeling a “severe and painful burning in his chest area,” according to the lawsuit. Around 9:30 a.m., Shields and Reichel arrived at the Straub Medical Center where Shields went into cardiac arrest, received CPR and underwent surgery, NBC News reported. At that time, the couple didn’t know a second alert had been sent announcing the earlier alarm was false. It was later determined an “employee pushed the wrong button” during a shift change.

“The warning there was an imminent missile attack about to hit Hawaii was a substantial contributing factor in causing the heart attack,” according to cardiologist John MacGregor, cited in the lawsuit. “Prior to that time, Mr. Shields had no known cardiac disease,” concludes MacGregor, a professor of medicine at the San Francisco School of Medicine and a doctor at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. The doctor mentioned medical literature “supports the finding that acute mental stress” can cause a heart attack.

An internal investigation of the matter found that “insufficient management controls, poor computer software design and human factors contributed” to the false alarm and the delayed correction, according to CNN.