Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Superior Court Addresses Law of Liability for Ambulance Crew Members

In the case of Lamarr-Murphy v. Del. Co. Mem. Hosp., No. 1846 EDA 2021 (Pa. Super. Dec. 20, 2023 McCaffery, J., Lazarus, J., and Murray, J.) (Op. by McCaffery, J.), the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of post-trial motions in a case involving emergency medical services rendered to the Plaintiff's decedent.

The decedent, who was only 39 at the time of his death, had a history of gout, blood clots, and deep vein thrombosis.  On the day in question, he passed out at home and an ambulance was summoned.  The Plaintiffs alleged negligence with respect to how the ambulance crew handled their interaction with the decedent at his home and during the transport to the hospital.  In addition to having issues with the medical treatment provided to the decedent by the EMS crew, the Plaintiffs also asserted that the ambulance crew was negligent for taking a different route to the hospital that the family would have taken and for stoping at red lights and stop signs.

Along the way to the hospital, the Plaintiff's deceded went into cardiac arrest and the ambulance was stopped so that the crew could administer CPR and provide other treatment measures.

Overall, 39-40 minutes had passed between the time the ambulance left the decedent's home and the time it arrived at the hospital.  The decedent was pronounced dead on arrival.

During the course of this litigation, the ambulance company defendants asserted that it was immune from liability under the Good Samaritan Act.  The trial court ruled that the Act applied and that, therefore, at trial, the Plaintiffs would have to prove gross negligence to prevail on the claims presented.  A mixed verdict resulted at trial and this appeal followed.   

The Superior Court noted that the exclusion in the emergency responder statute for “hospital emergency facilities” was meant to exclude on-site emergency rooms, not hospital ambulance services, from liability.  The appellate court otherwise noted that an emergency provider is granted immunity under the statute unless that individual’s actions amount to intentional harm or gross negligence with respect to the injured party.

The Superior Court also held that the choice of route or the use of sirens by an ambulance crew does not rise to the level of gross negligence.

The court otherwise noted that an ambulance driver’s compliance with traffic laws also does not amount to a breach of duty to a healthy passenger that could serve to support the passenger’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon an injury to a relative located within the ambulance.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Reed Smith law firm in Philadelphia for bringing this case to my attention.

Source of image:  Photo by Erik McLean on www.unsplash.com.

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