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Legal Lesson of the Month: Patient Sues Over Ambulance Crash

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 or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases

Case: Charles C. Willis v. Community Emergency Medical Service, Inc. and Eric J. Norris

Decided: November 2020

Verdict: The State of Michigan Court of Appeals found that there was a dispute whether Norris was driving too fast for weather conditions and unanimously reinstated Willis’ lawsuit against the ambulance company, overturning a trial judge’s decision that there were no material facts showing negligence. The court held the immunity statute for EMS does not apply to nonemergency transports.

Facts: In December 2015, after spending 2½ months in a Troy, Mich. hospital and undergoing numerous medical procedures, plaintiff Willis was being transported to another hospital in Grosse Pointe when the ambulance in which he was riding slid off the road and flipped onto its side. The transport was deemed a priority 3 nonemergency transport, which did not entail using overhead lights or sirens and which required [driving crew member] Norris to honor all traffic regulations.

Norris testified there was ice on the ground and a mix of rain, snow, and sleet. He testified there was a ‘decent amount’ of traffic on the road and he remembered changing lanes, but not how many times, and said the vehicle did not slip while changing lanes. Plaintiff testified otherwise. Plaintiff said that every time Norris drove through the slush as he was changing lanes, he experienced “a little bit of a shimmy.” He was concerned with how fast they were going.

Both parties testified the ambulance started sliding as it merged onto Interstate 94, Norris overcorrected, and the ambulance fishtailed and rolled onto its side in a ditch. Norris attributed the accident to black ice.

Key quote: “The trial court erred by failing to view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and to draw all reasonable inferences in his favor, and by weighing credibility. Plaintiff may not be able to establish his claim for negligence ultimately, but he has at least raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the accident at issue occurred because Norris was negligent by driving too fast for the weather conditions.”

Legal lesson: In this case a state’s immunity statute protects EMS only for treatment of a patient.



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