Parents Allege 911 Responders Were Grossly Negligent in Wrongful Death Action in Maryland

A Maryland wrongful death action may be brought by the decedent’s surviving family members against the party or parties who are liable for their death.  In a June 16, 2020 wrongful death case, the decedent died at the age of 21 as a result of cardiac arrest following an acute asthma attack.  His parents and estate filed suit, asserting wrongful death and related claims against the county, as well as the paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) who assisted him.  The case came before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland after the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Shortly before his death, the decedent began experiencing difficulty breathing while at a friend’s house.  Responding to the 911 call for the decedent, the emergency medical service providers arrived on the scene and transported the decedent to the hospital, where he later died.  The decedent’s survivors brought their wrongful death claim based on the defendants’ timing and propriety of their response.  The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on grounds of immunity, which the circuit court granted.  The appeal followed.

In Maryland, there are two laws that may provide a basis for immunity for paramedics and EMTs.  Under the Good Samaritan Act, a person is not liable for any act or omission while giving medical care if they were not grossly negligent, the medical assistance was free, and it was provided either at the scene of the emergency, or through communications with someone providing emergency assistance.  Under the Fire & Rescue Companies Act, the employees of a rescue company are immune from civil liability for any act or omission in the course of performing their duties.

There was no dispute that the defendants were providing emergency medical services, and therefore were otherwise entitled to immunity as long as their conduct was not willful or grossly negligent.  On appeal, the primary issue was whether the defendants’ actions could be found by a jury to be grossly negligent.  Gross negligence is defined in Maryland as an intentional failure to perform a manifest duty, with reckless disregard of the consequences to another person, and without the exertion of any effort to avoid such consequences.

The appeals court ultimately concluded there was insufficient evidence that the defendants were willful or grossly negligent.  The court noted that they had arrived at the scene of the emergency in the early morning hours less than 7 minutes after receiving the call from a dispatcher.  In addition, they continued their treatment after decedent was removed from the house and taken to the medic unit for transport to the hospital.  The appeals court therefore affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

If you are unsure of your legal options after the injury or death of a loved one, the Maryland accident attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can advise you.  We have represented plaintiffs and their families in a wide-range of negligence and personal injury cases, including medical malpractice claims and wrongful death actions.  To arrange an initial consultation with a skilled injury lawyer, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

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