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Can First-Responders be Held Liable for Medical Mistakes?

As experienced medical malpractice attorneys in Maryland, we frequently receive calls from people who believe an ambulance company, paramedic or some other type of emergency first-responder made a medical mistake that caused them needless injury. Of course, the question becomes: can such emergency personnel be held responsible for medical negligence through a medical malpractice lawsuit? The answer to this question, like so many others under the law, is “it depends.”

Maryland statutory law provides immunity to members of “any State, county, municipal, or volunteer fire department, ambulance and rescue squad, or law enforcement agency” if the member meets certain requirements, such as having completed a first aid course and holding a license or certification from the State as an emergency medical services provider. A copy of the statute can be found here. This law is formally titled “Emergency medical care” and has been referred to by Maryland courts as the “Good Samaritan Act.” Importantly, the Good Samaritan Act only provides immunity for ordinary negligence and not for acts of “gross negligence” or willful misconduct.

In 2013, Maryland’s highest court – the Maryland Court of Appeals – was tasked with deciding whether a private, for-profit ambulance company could take advantage of the immunity protections of the Good Samaritan Act. In that case, captioned TransCare Maryland, Inc. v. Murray, it was alleged that an employee of a private ambulance company was negligent in failing to timely and appropriately provide care and treatment to a minor during a helicopter transport from one medical facility to another, resulting in a devastating hypoxic brain injury. The plaintiff sought to hold the paramedic’s employer liable through the doctrine of vicarious liability, under which an employer is generally held responsible for the negligent acts of its employees committed within the course and scope of his or her employment. The Court of Appeals carefully traced the history and the intended purpose of the Good Samaritan Act and concluded that, as a private, for-profit ambulance company, it did not enjoy immunity under the Act because it did not qualify as a “volunteer ambulance and rescue squad.”

Maryland appellate courts recently have noted that the Good Samaritan Act and its interpretation is a developing area of the law. As the above discussion demonstrates, although the Act casts a wide net of immunity that would prohibit a monetary recovery, there are exceptions. If you or a loved one believe you were the victim of a medical mistake caused by an emergency responder – or any other healthcare provider – call our seasoned medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation at (410) 385-2225.