Negligence in a Time of Need: When First Responders Cause Harm

When a Hudson woman heard someone trying to break into her home in the middle of the night, she did exactly what we’ve all been taught to do when faced with a sudden danger: she called 911. But her incident took an even scarier turn when law enforcement failed to show up in a timely manner. This delay forced the woman, a mother of four, to hold the intruder at gunpoint for 13 minutes until police arrived.

This woman’s story is frightening for many reasons, and raises some unsettling thoughts. First responders are supposed to aid and protect us. What happens when they don’t do their job?

The Role of First Responders

First responders include police officers, fire fighters, or emergency medical technician (EMTs). They specialize in emergency assistance at the scene of an accident, natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other traumatic event. As the name implies, they are often the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency. Their duties usually involve pre-hospital care, stabilization of the situation, and transportation.

First responders often rush headlong into dangerous situations, risking their lives to help others. Their bravery and service makes them an integral, respected part of our communities. However, their important role also means that there is the potential for massive harm.

First Responders and the Standard of Care

Like people in the medical field, first responders must uphold a certain standard of care. This means that they are expected to behave in a competent, reasonable manner. For example, if someone puts in an emergency call for a house fire, it is expected that firefighters arrive quickly at the scene. If the firefighters took an hour to show up, it would likely be a violation of the standard of care.

Along with a delay in response, other ways that first responders could breach the standard of care include:

  • Going to the wrong address during an emergency call
  • Failing to check vital signs or perform a basic examination
  • Improperly moving or restraining an injured person
  • Failure to diagnose or treat a medical emergency
  • Improper administration of medication
  • Giving incorrect information to others who will be caring for the victim
  • Using excessive force

In most cases, these breaches do not occur because of a first responder’s malicious intent or intentional negligence. More often than not, they are a result of communication errors, inadequate protocol, or simple human error, like misreading the necessary dosage of medication for a patient. First responders work in incredibly stressful, fast-paced environments, and mistakes do happen—but even honest mistakes have massive consequences when emergency care is involved.

Negligence and Liability

Holding a first responder liable for negligent behavior can be very difficult because they are government employees. That said, there are still many routes that a victim can take to hold someone liable for their injuries or the death or a loved one. The first step is determining who is liable. In some cases, the individual responders might be liable. Other times, an entire organization might be liable if they had inadequate protocol in place, did not properly train their employees, or did not address previous issues of negligence or malpractice.

Luckily, the vast majority of emergencies end with people receiving the timely help they need! However, incidents like the one in Hudson show that negligence can still happen, which is why it’s important to know your rights as a citizen.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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