Negligence in a Time of Need: Malpractice Among EMTs and Paramedics

During an emergency, paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are some of the first people on the scene. Like firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are first responders, people who are specifically trained for emergency situations. For EMTs and paramedics, these emergency situations revolve around medical events and traumatic injuries. They are also often called to the scene of accidents, like traffic collisions.

The Role of EMTs and Paramedics

EMTs and paramedics essentially perform the same roles, but paramedics have a slightly higher level of education. This allows them to perform some types of treatment that EMTs are not qualified to perform. For instance, EMTs can provide oxygen and give CPR, but are generally not qualified to perform treatment that involve breaking the skin, like putting in an IV. Both EMTs and paramedics can administer certain types of medications, like Narcan for victims of opioid overdoses.

Both EMTs and paramedics work to stabilize and resuscitate victims, but their other important role is transportation. By using ambulances or helicopters, medical first responders get victims to the hospital in a timely fashion, so they can receive treatment beyond what first responders can offer at the scene. By keeping victims alive and transporting them to a hospital, EMTs and paramedics help to prevent deaths or permanent injuries.

Medical first responders provide care and compassion despite their fast-paced, stressful, and often traumatic workplace environment. But while we should thank them for their dedication, it’s also important to acknowledge that because paramedics and EMTs are right there on the front lines, even the smallest act of negligence can have devastating consequences for victims.

Negligence and Malpractice Among First Responders

Like all people in the medical profession, EMTs and paramedics must uphold a standard of care. This means that they are expected to behave as any competent person would. For example, if someone puts in an emergency call, it would be expected that a paramedic would quickly arrive. If they took an hour to arrive, it would likely be a violation of the standard of care.

Along with a delay in response, other ways that EMTs and paramedics might 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 patient

If an EMT or paramedic breaches the standard of care, it might fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice.

A Local Example

An incident involving alleged negligence unfolded earlier this month in Temple Terrace. The victim, a 30-year old woman who had recently given birth, was experiencing common signs of a stroke. But when paramedics arrived, the victim’s mother alleges that their conduct was negligent. She says that the paramedics questioned the family’s ability to pay for the ambulance and suggested that the victim was intoxicated. She also says they then failed to check her daughter’s vital signs before transporting her from her third floor apartment.

Fearing a delay in treatment, the mother drove to the hospital. By the time the victim arrived, she was experiencing brain bleeding and fell into a coma. She died a few days later, leaving behind three children, including her newborn baby.

Based on the mother’s claim, the paramedics displayed a gross neglect of duty. Their main breach of duty was the failure to check vital signs. They also allegedly failed to obtain consent from either the victim or her mother before allowing the mother to drive to the hospital. By breaking basic protocol and failing to provide basic care or obtain consent, they may have contributed to a delay in treatment that increased the victim’s risk of death.

Who is Liable for EMT and Paramedic Negligence?

Holding a paramedic or EMT 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 a case like the one in Temple Terrace, 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.

Medical malpractice can have a dangerous impact on a patient at any stage of their medical journey, but at the initial scene of the emergency, it’s more important than ever that patients receive efficient treatment. When a first responder like an EMT or paramedic behaves negligently, it jeopardizes the patient’s chances for recovery—and in some cases, means they might never even make it to the hospital.

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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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