Under the Maryland Fire and Rescue Company Act, entities that provide emergency services may not be held liable for simple negligence in a civil lawsuit. However, they may face civil liability if their actions are grossly negligent. In an October 1, 2018 Maryland wrongful death case, the jury found two paramedics were grossly negligent in responding to the decedent’s emergency. Despite the jury verdict, the judge entered a judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that the evidence was insufficient. The plaintiffs ultimately prevailed on their appeal.
In the case, the decedent had experienced chest pains and called 911. The defendants were dispatched to the decedent’s home and transported him to the hospital by ambulance. In the ambulance, the defendants checked the decedent’s initial vital signs and concluded that he was in stable condition. The defendants alerted hospital staff that the reason for the decedent’s visit was heartburn. As the decedent was waiting in the emergency room with the defendants, he continued to complain of chest pains and soon became unconscious. He was immediately treated by hospital staff but, despite life-saving efforts, passed away. It was later revealed that he had died of a heart attack.
The surviving family members brought suit against the paramedics and the city, alleging gross negligence due to their emergency response. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that the trial court erred by entering judgment for the defendants on the basis of insufficient evidence of gross negligence. The question for the appeals court, therefore, was whether or not the evidence at trial permitted only one inference, which was that the defendants were not grossly negligent.