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Are Emergency Responders Liable for Negligence?

The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) describes five classes of clinicians — emergency medical dispatchers, emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians, cardiac rescue technicians, and paramedics. Together, these clinicians work to achieve the goals set forth in the statewide Maryland Emergency Medical Services Plan — preventing illness or injury, providing timely, safe, coordinated, appropriate, evidence-based, effective emergency care, and maintaining a workforce that is well-trained, diverse, and sufficient.

Is there a point at which failure to meet these goals gives rise to liability? The answer is often complicated and depends largely on the facts of each particular case. This is because the Maryland Fire and Rescue Company Act, a Maryland state law that has grants immunity to fire and rescue company personnel, has been held to grant immunity from lawsuits based on “simple negligence.” Generally, this law provides immunity for actions based on all acts or omissions, except for willful or grossly negligent ones. In a decision published last summer in the case of Stracke v. Butler, Maryland’s highest state court considered what constitutes “gross negligence.”

What Happened in Stracke v. Butler?

This case started with a 911 call made by a wife on behalf of her husband, who was experiencing chest pain. According to the facts stated in the court’s opinion, the municipality’s medics, who arrived at the couple’s home and assessed the husband, had the primary responsibility of assessing and transporting patients, and not diagnosing medical conditions. Within half an hour of arriving at the couple’s home, the municipality’s first responders and the husband arrived in an ambulance at the hospital. While waiting in the emergency room, the husband’s condition got worse and he became unconscious. Ultimately, the hospital was unable to resuscitate the husband, and a subsequent autopsy revealed that he died of a heart attack.

The wife and other family members filed a wrongful death action that alleged, among other things, that the first responders were grossly negligent in failing to accurately diagnose and treat the husband, and that their negligence caused his death. Maryland’s highest court, reversing lower court judgments, found insufficient evidence of gross negligence. The court noted, among other things, that the first responders assessed the husband, took his vital signs, and took him to the closest hospital within less than 10 minutes of arriving at the home.

Assessing Liability for Health Professionals’ Negligence

If you have questions about the Stracke case, or about the potential liability of EMTs or other emergency care workers, or other health care workers, for injuries, contact the Law Office of Robert R. Castro. Speak with our experienced personal injury lawyers in Waldorf. by calling (301) 870-1200. Our Charles County wrongful death lawyers and medical malpractice team can work with you to answer your questions and evaluate your claim.