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.
In Maryland, gross negligence is an intentional act or failure to act that is performed with wanton and reckless disregard for the rights of others and indifference to the potentially injurious consequences. Generally, “wanton” means conduct that is extremely dangerous and outrageous.
After reviewing the case, the appeals court found significant evidence that the defendants were grossly negligent in failing to administer the proper aid required to treat the decedent. The court explained that the testimony provided at trial clearly demonstrated that the defendants knew, or should have known that the decedent’s symptoms were signs of a heart complication. Further, the defendants also knew the protocol required to treat a patient who is clutching their chest, having difficulty speaking or breathing, and complaining of heartburn-like symptoms.
The court concluded that it was reasonable for a jury to find that the defendants did not employ their training in the case of the decedent, and for the jury to infer from the facts that the defendants made a deliberate choice not to render medical care, in reckless disregard of the consequences affecting the decedent. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the judgment and imposed the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs.
If you are seeking dedicated legal representation, the Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. may be able to assist you. We have advocated for plaintiffs in many personal injury cases, including medical malpractice claims and wrongful death actions. Request an initial consultation with one of our experienced injury lawyers by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.
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