Can I Seek Damages for Injuries Caused by Delays in Providing Emergency Ambulance Services?
The conduct of paramedics and other emergency responders often make the difference between catastrophic injuries and full recovery.
The facts of Crewey v. American Medical Response of Georgia, Inc. provide an example of the damage that can be caused by an ambulance company that delays necessary emergency medical services. Because of the sensitive nature of the services provided by ambulance companies, a relatively short delay in responding can result in tragic consequences.
The factual background of the Crewey case serves as a useful illustration. Crewey called 911 and reported experiencing chest pains and other symptoms consistent with cardiac arrest. When emergency medical responders arrived, they transported Crewey to Emory Dunwoody Medical Center. Medical personnel at the hospital confirmed that the patient had suffered an acute myocardial infraction. Because the hospital did not have adequate resources to treat the patient, the emergency room cardiologist ordered that the patient be transported to another medical center for an angioplasty and cardiac catheterization.
A Dunwoody nurse contacted AMR to request transport for the patient under a contract between the hospital and the ambulance company that provided that AMR would be the first company it called for ambulance services. The nurse communicated the grave life-threatening nature of the situation and the need for at least one paramedic and life support equipment, but the nurse became frustrated when the AMR representative insisted that insurance information be provided before proceeding further. Though the nurse re-iterated the emergency nature of the situation, the service indicated that it would be at least an hour to an hour and a half before they could provide transport services. The AMR representative agreed to assist in obtaining alternate transport arrangements but again insisted on insurance information before doing so.
Crewey filed a lawsuit for severe damage to his heart allegedly caused by the delay in obtaining medical transport. He submitted an expert affidavit from the treating physician that indicated that the 37 minutes of additional delay in transport caused by AMR resulted in further heart damage and created an increased risk of future cardiac arrest and death.
Cases like this one are complex because of the statutory immunity provided to emergency responders pursuant to OCGA • 31-11-8, which provides:
[a]ny person, including agents and employees, who is licensed to furnish ambulance service and who in good faith renders emergency care to a person who is a victim of an accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages to such victim as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering such emergency care to such victim․
OCGA • 31-11-8(a), (c). "Emergency care" has been defined as "the performance of necessary personal services during an unforeseen circumstance that calls for immediate action." Anderson, 242 Ga. at 753(1), 251 S.E.2d 250. And "[t]he statute is carefully drawn so as to grant immunity to providers of ambulance service only for their acts and omissions in rendering such emergency care." (Punctuation omitted.) Id. at 754(2), 251 S.E.2d 250. See Bricks v. Metro Ambulance Svs., 177 Ga.App. 62, 69(2), 338 S.E.2d 438 (1985).
The court in Crewey disregarded the claim of immunity under the statute because it was the ambulance company's failure to provide necessary emergency services that caused the increased cardiac damage. Complex issues like emergency responder immunity, multiple potential defendants and challenges of proving a causal link between a bad outcome and delays in treatment make personal injury lawsuits against ambulance companies and others involved in emergency medical response complex. If you believe you or someone close to you has been injured by a delay in emergency response or referral, you should contact our Atlanta personal injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates for a free consultation to determine your legal rights.
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