When a paramedic is negligent
When an emergency strikes and you dial 911 for emergency rescue, you trust the paramedics and emergency medical technicians to provide safe transport and to provide the best quality care while getting there. It is up to those paramedics and the EMTs to make an accurate assessment and to provide treatment that meets a certain standard of care. But what happens when that assessment or care falls short with harmful consequences, even death.
Consider the recent death of a 26-year-old woman suffering from an apparent asthma attack. The paramedics arrived; x-rays taken in the emergency room room showed that the woman had been intubated in the esophagus and stomach instead of the trachea by the paramedics. The woman allegedly suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest, seizures, coma, and brain death upon arrival at the emergency room and her ultimate death three days later when she was removed from life support systems.
Statutory immunity from civil lawsuits for negligence and malpractice currently exists in New Jersey for (1) individual members of first aid, rescue, or emergency squads, regardless of whether they receive reimbursement; (2) volunteer first aid, rescue, and emergency squads, as entities; and (3) first aid, rescue, or emergency squads, as entities, regardless of whether they receive reimbursement, for acts or omissions committed while training for or rendering advanced life support services.
However, a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling last year held that this immunity statute distinguished between “entity” liability and “individual” liability, that is, immunity as a group, and immunity as a person. The court held that immunity from civil liability was limited to individual first responders and did not extend to the non-volunteer rescue squads that employ them. Thus, the statute, by its plain language, did not provide immunity to a rescue squad as an entity and thus could be sued for the negligent provision of intermediary emergency medical services.
The New Jersey legislature has responded to that decision by introducing a bill that would amend the law to clarify that “No EMT-intermediate, . . . first aid, ambulance or rescue squads, or officers and members of a first aid, ambulance or rescue squad shall be liable for any civil damages as the result of an act or the omission of an act committed while in training for or in the rendering of intermediate life support services in good faith.” On February 21, the New Jersey Senate Law & Public Safety Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill No. 2165; the New Jersey Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee reported favorably on a companion measure (Assembly Bill No. 3282) in January. As of this writing, no final action has been taken on the legislation.
If you or a loved one have suffered injury or worse due to the negligence of a paramedic in New Jersey, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to review your case.