The family of an elderly woman who died waiting for an ambulance during a massive snow storm took the first step toward filing a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking $20 million in damages from New York City.

Yvonne Freeman, 75, reported breathing problems to her daughter Laura on December 27, 2010, when the city was snowbound, and died from a heart attack before the ambulance arrived, family attorney Sanford Rubenstein said.

The daughter tried almost 45 minutes before reaching a 911 emergency operator, and they waited nearly three hours for the ambulance to arrive, he said.

"Had the city done what it had the duty to do, this tragedy would not have occurred," Rubenstein said. The family filed a legal notice of claim, which is the first step to a formal lawsuit, with the city on Wednesday.

The family is blaming Freeman's death on the poor city cleanup response to the storm including the Sanitation, Transportation, Police and Fire departments.

The city is already under federal investigation for how it handled the massive snowstorm that began on December 26 and pummeled the area with more than two feet of snow.

Federal investigators are investigating allegations that city workers may have deliberately slowed efforts to clean up the snow, and the City Council is scrutinizing delays in responding to emergency medical calls during the storm.

"This involves a tragic situation and we'll await the legal papers," said Kate O'Brien Ahlers, the city's law spokeswoman, when asked to comment.

The family is seeking $20 million, stemming from the victim's pain and suffering, medical expenses and her family's psychological duress, the attorney said.