EMS can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.
These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing Lawrence.firstname.lastname@example.org or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases.
Case: Ashley N. Downer v. Baltimore County, Md.
Decided: August 2020
Verdict: Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals held 3–0 that EMTs are covered by a 1987 statute that awards increased compensation to public safety employees injured on the job, even though the statute did not specifically include EMTs in its definitions.
Facts: While lifting a heavy bag of equipment at work, Downer suffered a neck injury that resulted in a permanent partial disability, for which the Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded her 45 weeks of compensation. However, this was at one-third of her average weekly wage, instead of the two-thirds specified for public safety employees.
Baltimore County claimed that as an EMT, Downer did not meet the statutory definition of “public safety employee” set forth in Maryland law, which refers specifically to “a firefighter, firefighting instructor, or paramedic…[or] a volunteer firefighter or volunteer ambulance, rescue, or advanced life support worker.”
Despite the inclusion of those similar volunteer positions, the county maintained, “At no time has the General Assembly seen fit to add paid EMT employees to those public safety employees included.”
The court found, however, that when that law was written, common use of the term paramedic “would have aptly described” Downer’s job: “In 1987, the term ‘paramedic’ was defined in a generally available dictionary as ‘a person who is trained to assist a physician or to give first aid or other healthcare in the absence of a physician, often as part of a police, rescue, or firefighting squad’… Were we to adopt the county’s interpretation, the legal effect would be to treat Baltimore County’s paid EMTs less favorably…than emergency medical technicians who volunteer and perform similar work under similar circumstances.” It determined, given the intent of the law, “it would be illogical, if not absurd, for the legislature to have treated volunteers more advantageously…than paid EMTs who are injured while performing the same emergency services.”
Key quote: “The Court concludes that the term ‘paramedic’ was used by the legislature in accordance with its commonly understood meaning and includes persons who are also known as emergency medical technicians.”
Legal lesson: This broad interpretation of a workers’ compensation statute is favorable for EMS.