When are EMTs and Paramedics Liable for Medical Malpractice?October 26, 2021
It is not easy to be an emergency medical technician (EMT) or a paramedic, as they act as vital first responders, helping patients in emergency situations and saving lives. However, just like doctors and other medical professionals, EMTs and paramedics can be negligent or make mistakes that can cause things to go very wrong or even lead to patient fatalities. Fortunately, this does not happen in most cases, but when it does, victims and their families will want to make things right. To prove a medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff would need to prove that the EMT or paramedic breached their duty of care, which led to additional injuries, illnesses, or worse.
What are the Responsibilities of EMTs and Paramedics?
EMTs and paramedics respond to medical emergencies in all types of places, including highways, playgrounds, schools, homes, and offices. They have a duty to respond quickly, diagnose their patients, and treat the symptoms, and to ensure that the patients are transported safely and promptly for treatment. However, EMTs and paramedics are trained differently. Although both need to be trained, licensed, and certified, paramedics are the medical professionals with the more advanced skills. Both are on the front lines for emergency medical services and provide support to injured patients before they arrive at hospitals.
EMT professionals are qualified to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic medical care, such as:
- Assessing patients to determine life-threatening illnesses or injuries are present
- Administering epinephrine
- Administering CPR
- Splinting injuries
- Bag valve mask ventilation
- Oxygen administration
- Delivery of a newborn
Paramedics can also perform all these medical tasks, and their training also includes:
- Medication administration
- Advanced airway management
- Starting intravenous (IV) lines
- Interpreting electrocardiogram readings for heart attack patients
EMTs receive approximately 170 hours of training, whereas paramedic training programs can last up to a year and encompass thousands of hours of training. Naturally, no two emergency situations are exactly alike, so these professionals rely on their skills and training to adapt to what is needed at the time. Many emergency situations also involve other factors that can harm patients, including the transportation process.
What if There are Problems with the Ambulance?
When a serious accident occurs, one expects that an ambulance will arrive shortly after 911 is called. It should be staffed with qualified, trained personnel who will care for the injured people who are transported to a hospital as soon as possible. These patients and their loved ones trust that they will be safe while in the care of these EMTs and paramedics, and that all the equipment on board will be working properly.
Unfortunately, ambulances do not always arrive quickly enough. A delayed ambulance response could be a driver’s fault, or because the ambulance provider is understaffed. If the accident happened in a location far away from the hospital or if there is heavy traffic, it could also take much longer to get to the accident scene and back to the emergency room. These situations can mean less time for saving lives and added pressure on medical personnel. Still, they are responsible for providing the best care that they can, no matter the circumstances; in some cases, those other parties could also be responsible for additional injuries sustained by the victim.
Types of EMT and Paramedic Negligence
When these professionals do things that fall outside of their job descriptions or do not accomplish their tasks as needed for the treatment, they can be seen as negligent for breaching their care of duty to patients. Examples of claims made by patients might include a paramedic using the wrong methods to accomplish tasks, causing additional injury, or declining to provide treatment. Treatment mistakes such as administering the wrong medication or an incorrect dose, or using medical tools incorrectly, have been known to happen.
Other examples of EMT or paramedic negligence could include failing to administer oxygen, neglecting to identify a potentially fatal condition, not responding in a time-sensitive manner, or using the wrong equipment for a procedure. These first responders can also be deemed negligent if they fail to respond quickly or bring the wrong equipment and tools to the scene. EMTs and paramedics are also responsible for accurate record-keeping of the treatment they provide, and making a mistake here could lead to complications along the route or when the patient is being treated at the hospital.
Problems can also occur when EMTS and paramedics do not maintain the certifications or participate in ongoing, required training. Some of these medical professionals are also responsible for maintaining the ambulance equipment, so if that is not functioning properly and hurts a patient, this could also impact a case. Gross negligence is when the EMT or paramedic provides service at a level of care determined to be lower than the standard, and this is more unusual than the other kinds of negligence.
Are There Medical Malpractice Laws that Would Apply to My Case?
For every type of medical malpractice suit, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted in a negligent manner; the first step for this is to confirm that the patient was owed a duty of care that was breached. The medical standard of care mandates EMTs and paramedics, and other health care providers, to provide the same quality of care that would be provided by similarly skilled EMTs and paramedics in the same kinds of situations. As for gross negligence standards, the care provided must be significantly lower than the care level that a similarly skilled EMT or paramedic would have given in the same kind of circumstances.
State laws also impact how medical malpractice suits are handled. Some limit state malpractice lawsuits and will allow them only if they constitute what is known as willful and wanton conduct. This can make it much harder for plaintiffs to win their cases in these states. The key factor is that it must be proved that the medical provider made a conscious choice not to provide proper care. One example of that could be a paramedic who refused to treat a patient because of the patient’s gender, race, or other protected category.
Who Would be Liable for This Kind of Negligence?
This also depends on a variety of factors involved in the incident. If 911 was called and the ambulance gets there late, the patient could arrive too late at the hospital for his or her life to be saved. Or, if the EMT administered the wrong medication, the patient could end up with brain damage. Expert witness testimony might be helpful in determining how timelines and treatments may have impacted the outcome. For example, it could be shown that giving another medication en route could have saved the patient’s life.
Although most ambulance companies are privately owned, 911 services are operated by county governments. A plaintiff can decide to sue the ambulance company, the county, the hospital, or the EMT; they may also want to sue several or all these parties. These are all different kinds of cases, and some can be more complicated than others. Government officials benefit from special immunity rules, so these can be hard to work around.
If you decided to sue an ambulance company, it would be important to analyze the chain of events leading up to what happened; it might be necessary to show proof that the ambulance company itself was responsible for the actions of their employees. During the investigation phase, it may be determined that the ambulance driver was intoxicated, the 911 dispatcher was taking a break, or a paramedic made an obvious mistake. The hospital could have contributed to the injuries as well.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Injured Patients and Their Families
If you or a loved one was further injured after an accident or illness because of a medical professional’s negligence, you are urged to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will conduct a thorough investigation to determine who is responsible for your injuries and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.