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Legal Lesson of the Month: Fall in an Icy Parking Lot

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

Case: Brandilyn Biggs v. Roberta C. Hall and AB Merion II 1303 Wilmington, LLC

Decided: February 2021

Verdict: Delaware Superior Court Judge Andrea L. Rocanelli denied a defense motion for summary judgment, holding EMT Biggs may sue a parking lot owner for damages resulting from a fall. 

Facts: Biggs, an EMT with St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., contended she was injured in the parking lot of AB Merion’s Delaware Ave. apartment building. Dispatched to aid a person in the parking lot, Biggs said she slipped and fell on ice while searching for the individual who needed attention. Biggs contends AB Merion was negligent by failing to maintain the parking lot in a safe condition for pedestrians.

AB Merion requested judgment on the grounds that its duty to Biggs as an EMT was merely to refrain from willful or wanton conduct rather than satisfy the ordinary duty of reasonable care. According to AB Merion, Delaware’s “firefighter’s rule”—which bars firefighters from recovering from private parties for injuries sustained while carrying out their professional duties—should apply also to EMTs such as Biggs.

That rule in Delaware dates to 1988. Firefighter Michelle Carpenter injured her back while ripping down the interior walls of a burning building to prevent spread. The Delaware Superior Court held the property owner was not responsible for Carpenter’s injuries and limited her recovery to worker’s compensation benefits. The court held that the duty owed to firefighters responding to an emergency was to refrain from injuring the firefighter intentionally or by willful and wanton misconduct and to provide notice of hidden dangers of which the landowner was aware. The Carpenter court emphasized that “a fire[fighter] may not recover when he [or she] is injured from the very risk, created by the defendant’s act of negligence, that required his [or her] professional assistance and presence at the scene.” It cited three bases for that determination: common law land-entrant classifications; assumption of risk by the firefighter; and public policy concerns.

Those principles didn’t apply to Briggs’s case, Rocanelli decided: First, she was neither trespasser nor guest; second, she didn’t assume a slip-and-fall risk simply by responding as an EMT; and third, public policy concerns require parking lots be properly maintained so that persons using them will not be injured. Biggs was owed the duty of reasonable care.

Key quote: “The standard of care required of all defendants in tort actions is that of a reasonably prudent [person]. There are no exceptions which apply that change the standard of care applicable here.”

Legal lesson: In many states “firefighter’s rules” normally would not allow fire, EMS, or police to sue property owners for injuries—their sole remedy is often worker’s comp. Here the judge found a “genuine issue of material fact” regarding whether AB Merion was negligent in its duty to maintain the parking lot and allowed the suit to proceed. 

 

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