HERO or CRIMINAL
Any EMS provider who has been in the field (for ANY amount of time) knows, sadly, not all patients “make it”.
Think of the patients you’ve worked on, maybe doing CPR until your own arms feel like they are going to fall off, just to lose that patient. It’s heartbreaking. But now imagine, your patient’s family wants you charged for KILLING their loved one or causing them irreparable harm. Can you go from HERO to CRIMINAL while you are still trying to catch your own breath?
Our EMS community is reeling over the news that two Illinois providers are currently facing first-degree murder charges. According to evidence gathered, these otherwise skilled EMTs are accused of acting with “extreme indifference” and knowingly acting in ways that would create “extreme harm and or death”. Unfortunately, there is enough (police) body cam footage and other testimony to support these charges. Under the Criminal Code of the state of Illinois, these two first responders are facing the possibility of years in jail.
Although one long-time EMT I spoke with said “EMTs are supposed to advocate for their patients” after hearing about this incident — it still weighs heavy on every first responder to think that they may be opening themselves up to personal liability or even criminal charges. How can you protect yourself?
Keep in mind that these charges were made because of the purposeful actions of these two providers. If you do YOUR BEST and work only up to the scope of your training, and treat your patient respectfully, then you shouldn’t have any real concerns. Some family members, in their extreme grief, may want to blame you, but legally you have done nothing criminal. Remember that Civil actions are different from Criminal charges.
One training officer of a volunteer ambulance youth squad always told her students, “Treat every patient as if he/she were your own grandparent”. By teaching these students to work with their teammates, to be kind to their patients, and to do their best within their training, she molded many future EMTs and Paramedics.
New York State’s Public Health Law §3013 provides immunities for VOLUNTEER EMS responders; “an emergency medical technician or an advanced emergency medical technician who voluntarily and without the expectation of monetary compensation renders medical assistance in an emergency to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by said person or for damages for the death of such person alleged to have occurred”. However, if GROSS NEGLIGENCE on the part of that volunteer crew can be established, “the department may be liable”.
In NYS, paid ambulance corps in municipalities also receive some protection from litigation. “…costs to municipalities of allowing recovery would be excessive; the threat of liability might deter or paralyze useful activity…” However, these protections are in place only when there is NO evidence of Gross Negligence. In ALL cases of Gross Negligence, courts may rely on juries to determine evidence of guilt and punishment. In any case, charges against certified first responders can certainly end a career.