Brantley v. City of Horn Lake – Emergency Responder Liability

We trust first responders – emergency medical technicians and paramedics – with our lives. Most of the time, these workers respond promptly, provide appropriate care and transport patients safely to the hospital, where they can receive further treatment. ambulance11

However, there are situations where these individuals may in fact cause further injury.

A study by the Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzed litigation stemming from claims against emergency medical services personnel, and found the vast majority  – 72 percent – involved motor vehicle accidents. This makes sense, as these drivers are tasked with quickly navigating active roadways. The rest of lawsuits involved claims of medical negligence and general liability.

Our Boca Raton injury lawyers know the type of injury involved will set the bar for the burden of proof necessary for plaintiff to meet. So too will the organizational status of the EMS employer – whether it is a public or private entity.

For instance, claims of medical negligence (or medical malpractice) require proof defendant provided care that was not in line with acceptable industry standards given that person’s training, experience and the circumstances. In many of these cases, the rushed nature and lack of access to full medical supplies in an ambulance-type setting will be considered. In a motor vehicle accident, emergency vehicles responding to an incident or transporting a patient are given the right-of-way, and generally are not deemed negligent unless it can be proven operator drove with reckless disregard for the safety of others. General liability, meanwhile, is simply a standard that holds EMS workers to act as any reasonable or prudent person would.

The status of the employer matters, too, because public entities and their agents are often shielded by sovereign immunity, except under certain circumstances. Defendant has burden to prove this immunity applies. However, if the agency is a private company contracted by a public branch of government, the rules may be different and sovereign immunity may not be applicable.

Each situation must be carefully weighed by an experienced injury lawyer on a case-by-case basis.

In the recent case of Brantley v. City of Lake Horn, the Mississippi Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether summary judgment favoring defendant on sovereign immunity grounds was appropriate where an EMS worker reportedly dropped a patient on a stretcher. The state supreme court reversed the lower court on this issue, ruling the situation warranted an exception to sovereign immunity, and the case should be allowed to proceed to the trial phase.

According to court records, plaintiff was repairing his truck at home when he suffered a laceration on his forehead. He called for an ambulance to assist him and take him to the hospital. A crew responded, including a firefighter who was also licensed as an emergency medical technician and certified to drive the ambulance. The EMTs stabilized plaintiff, loaded him into the ambulance and reached the hospital without issue. However, as they were carrying him on a stretcher into the hospital, the firefighter/EMT lost control of the stretcher and it collapsed on him.

Plaintiff alleges he suffered additional injuries, medical bills and other expenses as a result of being dropped.

The firefighter/EMT worked for the city, which as defendant requested sovereign immunity in the case. Although that request was initially denied by the circuit court, it was later granted on reconsideration.

Plaintiff appealed to state supreme court, arguing the incident was not covered under provisions of sovereign immunity law regarding fire protection services, as the lower court had found. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and reversed. The firefighter was not engaged at the time of the incident in activities related to fire protection, and thus the exemption cited by the lower court was inapplicable. That is, a worker’s job title alone is not a shield for liability. Further, the actions of the firefighter/EMT in this case were not discretionary in nature, and therefore the city was not entitled to a discretionary exemption.

Such cases can be complex. It’s important to consult with a lawyer with experience.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Brantley v. City of Lake Horn,Dec. 4, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Crocker v. Morales-Santana – Trucking Accident Liability, Nov. 3, 2014, Boca Raton Accident Lawyer Blog