EMSs and paramedics are local heroes who often brave horrendous conditions to bring patients to hospitals for treatment – and they often provide temporary, life-saving care on the way. Unfortunately, they are also capable of making mistakes that can lead to the death of a patient.
Due to the nature of ambulance care, wrongful death cases are rare, but EMS lawsuit cases do happen.
Did your loved one die as the result of negligence on behalf of an EMS, paramedic, or ambulance driver? Here’s what you need to know about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death in medicine occurs when a care provider ignores or forgets standard medical practice when treating a patient in a way that constitutes negligence.
In a hospital, it might include ignoring medical convention, failure to diagnose, a surgical mistake, or a medication mistake. Some of the other unfortunately common causes of wrongful death include:
- Anesthesia error
- Birth injury
- Emergency room error
Anyone who practices medicine with a license or certification can be a party to wrongful death.
However, four elements must exist for the death to fall into the categories of negligence, medical malpractice, or wrongful death.
First, you must prove that the defendant had a duty to care. This is particularly complex in ambulance cases where EMTs and paramedics have both skill and legal restrictions.
Second, you must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. This doesn’t necessarily mean making a mistake by taking a risk but instead usually means flying in the face of medical convention in some way. It asks the question: would a reasonable person with the same training have made the same choice in the situation?
Third, you have to prove that the breach of duty of care was the direct cause of death. Again, this is problematic in ambulance cases because of the limited scope of the EMS as well as the complex condition of the patient.
Finally, you have to prove damages. In wrongful death cases, death is the damage.
Can an EMT Commit a Wrongful Death?
Yes, an EMT, paramedic, or another party involved in the care or transport of a patient in an ambulance can commit a negligent mistake that constitutes wrongful death.
For example, if an EMT doesn’t check for life-threatening injuries to treat on the way to the hospital, and the patient dies, they may be accused of negligence. Additionally, if they administer a medication that they know the patient is allergic to or don’t check for allergies, and the patient dies, then it may be a wrongful death under the law.
However, wrongful death cases in ambulances tend to be rare. EMTs and paramedics have a set list of duties to patients based on their medical training and what they are allowed to perform. The duty of care is known as “medical standard of care,” and it is far more restrictive than a doctor or care provider with full privileges in a clinic or hospital.
What Are an EMTs Duties to Patients?
An EMT or paramedic must follow the expectations upheld by both state law and regulation as well as medical certification bodies.
Their duties usually include tasks like:
- Assess the patient’s injuries and identify life-threatening medical conditions
- Prepare patients for transport
- Transport patients to the closest medical facility
- Administer oxygen, IVs, and medications as appropriate and promptly
- Use their medical training to treat symptoms as necessary
- Manage their patient’s care until they hand the patient over to the emergency room (ER) staff
- Communicating the patient’s condition and all relevant information to the ER staff
However, an EMT/EMS or paramedic is limited in the procedures they can provide in part because of the place where they do their work and in part because of restrictions placed by the state. For example, most states won’t allow an EMT to start an IV or provide advanced airway management (usually a paramedic can).
Additionally, while EMTs can diagnose, they are not supposed to treat injuries or ailments that aren’t deemed life-threatening; if they do, and the patient dies, then their attempts to treat are malpractice and can be considered wrongful death.
In some cases, there is nothing the EMT can do – both within their training or the law or generally – to save a patient. A death in an ambulance is not negligence on its own. It only becomes negligent when a mistake is made that falls outside the medical standard of care.
Who Is Liable: the Worker or Their Employer?
EMTs, paramedics, and ambulance drivers can all be guilty of negligence, but who is liable? It often depends on factors that include:
- The cause of death
- Who participated in the treatment
- Where the employee works
For example, an ambulance company may be a private company or part of (or an extension of) the hospital. Additionally, those who work may be employees or independent contractors.
Many paramedics now work for private entities or who work for private hospitals. A wrongful death lawyer can investigate to help you identify the correct defendant in an insurance claim or lawsuit.
Deaths in Amublances Are Complicated
Wrongful death can happen in an ambulance. Although every case is tragic, these cases are more complicated thanks to the working environment and the more limited duty of care held by EMS/EMTs and paramedics.
If someone you love died as a result of a mistake, then you have potential grounds for a wrongful death or medical malpractice lawsuit. Click here for a free case review from our Lexington personal injury attorneys.
Firm founder Michael Jeffcoat takes pride in having built a law firm that embodies his commitment to helping people who have been injured or wronged. After receiving a B.A. degree in Political Economy and Philosophy at Wofford College in 1994, Jeffcoat went straight to the University of South Carolina School of Law. While there, in addition to his studies, he participated in Moot Court, the University’s trial competition, clerked in two U.S. Attorney’s Offices (Columbia and Seattle) and also the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office. Mr. Jeffcoat completed his Juris Doctor degree in 1997.