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Are EMTs and other emergency responders immune from patient lawsuits?

Published on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:56 pm in General Blogs.

Though they train for crisis situations, it is not fair to expect miracles or perfection from those who respond to 911 emergencies. They aren’t doctors or rolling hospitals. They must make quick decisions under chaotic or even hostile circumstances.

Maryland law shields first responders, EMTs, paramedics and ambulance drivers from liability for bad outcomes of good faith efforts to help those in distress. But emergency personnel and their employers may be legally accountable for injury or death when they are reckless with protocols or derelict in their duty.

Limited immunity for EMS personnel

The Maryland Good Samaritan Act provides volunteer fire departments, rescue squads and ambulance crews with immunity for ordinary negligence. The Maryland Fire and Rescue Act provides similar immunity to police officers, firefighters and medics employed by governmental entities. Although these laws do not extend to commercial ambulance companies, private ambulance drivers,  EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics are somewhat immune under the same good faith doctrine.

The blanket of immunity does not cover gross negligence or willful and wanton conduct. For example, EMS personnel get the benefit of the doubt if a belligerent patient is injured while being forcibly restrained. But if a patient falls off the gurney because they forgot to strap him in, or asphyxiates because the straps were too tight, that is a breach of the basic standard of medical care.

Other examples of actionable negligence might include:

  • Ignoring a call or unreasonable response time
  • Declaring “no emergency” without performing an exam
  • Failure to transport a patient who subsequently died
  •  Failure to contact medical control (supervising physician)
  •  Improperly equipped (oxygen, defibrillator, epinephrine, etc.)
  • Errors with intubation, IV’s or medications
  • Ambulance accidents (reckless operation)
  • Negligent hiring and training

Do you have grounds to sue?

Lawsuits for negligence in pre-hospital care are fact-specific and tough to win. The successful personal injury lawyers of Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz can determine if you have a viable case. They will identify all parties who bear liability – which might include the responding emergency personnel, 911 dispatchers, the city or county with oversight, a private employer, the EMS doctor and/or the hospital. Contact our Baltimore law firm at 800-895-5333 for a free consultation about your case anywhere in Maryland.

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