Court Reviews Record for Gross Negligence in Maryland Wrongful Death Action Against City Paramedics

Bringing a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against certain parties, such as police officers and emergency responders, may require proof of more than simple negligence.  If the defendants are entitled to statutory immunity, the plaintiff must demonstrate gross negligence in order to hold them liable in some cases.  In an August 16, 2019 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Appeals reviewed the record to determine whether the evidence was sufficient to establish gross negligence on the part of the defendants, who were city fire department paramedics.

The defendants in the case had responded to a 911 call for a reported chest pain emergency.  After assessing the decedent’s condition, they transported him to the hospital shortly thereafter.  While waiting in the emergency room, the decedent lost consciousness.  He was taken to another room and received treatment from the hospital staff, but unfortunately, never regained consciousness.  The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death suit against the defendants, alleging that they were negligent in providing medical assistance to the decedent.

The trial court determined that the Maryland Fire and Rescue Company Act granted the defendants civil immunity in the absence of any willful or grossly negligent act.  Accordingly, the issue at trial was whether the defendants acted in a grossly negligent manner.  The jury found that they had and awarded the plaintiffs approximately 3.7 million dollars in damages.  The matter was appealed twice and came before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Ordinarily, simple negligence is any conduct that falls below the standard established by law for protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.  Gross negligence, on the other hand, is an intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences to the life or property of another.  It also implies a thoughtless disregard of the consequences without any effort to avoid them.  To prove gross negligence, the evidence must be sufficient to establish that the defendant had a reckless disregard for human life, and only conduct that is extraordinary or outrageous is sufficient to imply this state of mind.

In the instant case, as the defendants had statutory immunity, they could only be liable to the plaintiffs if they were grossly negligent.  The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence of the defendants’ actions at trial, while potentially sufficient to establish simple negligence, was not sufficient to establish gross negligence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.  The court explained that although the defendants inaccurately diagnosed and treated the decedent, there was no evidence that the defendants made a deliberate and conscious choice to not help the decedent survive.  Accordingly, the judgment for the plaintiffs was reversed.

If you are seeking legal recourse after the death of a family member, the Maryland personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can assist you.  We can inform you of your options and provide compassionate advice regarding a wrongful death suit, motor vehicle collision, slip and fall, and other types of accidents caused by negligence.  To request a free consultation with one of our injury attorneys, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.