Medical Negligence in an Ambulance


During a health-related emergency, a patient’s first encounter with medical professionals may not be with doctors or nurses. When time is of the essence there’s a good chance you or a loved one may be first transported to a hospital via ambulance. There they will be under the care of an emergency medical technician (EMT) or their more highly educated colleagues, paramedics. Though we typically think of doctors when discussing malpractice, the fact is that negligence can also occur in an ambulance. EMT and paramedics have a duty of care, the same as a doctor or nurse might. This means they need to provide a reasonable standard of care when performing any sort of action. Here are some situations in which injury or death could be the fault of an EMT, paramedic, or ambulance driver.

Ambulance Crashes

As emergency vehicles, ambulances are given automatic right-of-way to ensure a quick trip to the hospital or medical center. Though they do have flashing lights and blare a loud siren, operators still have to drive defensively. Recent studies showed there are an average of 4,500 traffic crashes involving an ambulance per year, with 34% resulting in injuries (and 33 fatalities) during the same time period. What’s even more concerning is that during these crashes only 33% of patients were properly secured with shoulder and lap restraints. It’s understandable paramedics may feel rushed to get a patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. However, they’re still expected to get there safely.

Not Responding in Enough Time

EMTs and paramedics are called to a scene when it’s thought that simply driving is not quick enough for a person experiencing a medical emergency. If an ambulance fails to arrive in time to save a patient, this could be viewed as negligence. This is particularly true if testimonies from doctors or those at the scene confirm that there was an inordinate waiting time or any lack of urgency from the EMTs and paramedics once they arrived on scene.

Incorrect Diagnosis

Though EMTs are well-trained to provide adequate care, they are not licensed doctors. They may be highly experienced, but they have not been educated and certified to make diagnoses. The only duty of an EMT is to check for and treat any injuries that may be life threatening and safely get the patient to the hospital where they can receive care from an actual doctor. If an EMT goes above and beyond this duty and is then wrong, they could be liable for negligence.

Improper Medication Usage

Though EMTs must refrain unless directly ordered by a doctor, a paramedic often uses medication to treat symptoms during transportation. However, it’s the duty of both EMTs and paramedics to ensure no complications or allergies exist with the patient. For example, the depressant effects of blood thinners or painkillers can quickly increase when combined with other similar drugs. Overall, emergency responders need to first confirm that giving a patient a drug will not cause further harm to the person’s health. It’s also their responsibility to give the correct dosage in the right time frame. Lastly, they should inform admitting staff at the hospital of all the medicines that were given in the ambulance.

Providing Incorrect Information to Hospitals

Once the patient has arrived, EMTs or paramedics still must make sure the doctors have accurate and full information. It’s vital that they’ve documented the incident properly and that they give the doctors and nurses any relevant detail. This includes any complaints regarding location of pain or general awareness of the patient during the ambulance ride.

Ambulance Not Stocked

This instance applies most specifically to privately-owned ambulances, as they’re not overseen by a large hospital or medical facility. For these vehicles to be a safe place, there is a long list of requirements for what they keep onboard. This would include ventilation and airway equipment, an automated external defibrillator (AED), immobilization devices like a back or head board, and a variety of bandages and sterilization tools.

If you or a loved one are concerned there may have been injury or death caused by improper EMT behavior, it’s best to contact an experienced law firm who can help you find the best way to proceed with your case. Cline Farrell Christie & Lee will provide you with compassionate and thorough guidance for any legal matters and will make sure you get what’s owed to you. Don’t hesitate, call today.