Florida EMTs may go bankrupt because of a malpractice lawsuit

An ambulance service was recently held liable for failing to “do what was necessary” before accepting emergency transport of pregnant patient.

A child was born at 25 weeks gestation — 15 weeks premature — and was not breathing. Babies born at this age have a viability of 50-70%. In other words, up to half of children born at this age of gestation die. The family called 911. The paramedics arrived, performed CPR on the child, and brought the child back to life. I know a lot of physicians who would have difficulty resuscitating such a premature infant.

These paramedics should have been commended as heroes for saving this child’s life.

Instead, they were sued and found liable for $10 million.

The plaintiff attorney stated that “the paramedic should have evaluated her before they transported her.”

In its verdict, the jury found that the ambulance company “was negligent by accepting the transport task” and the company showed “reckless disregard” in rendering its services.

So instead of getting to the mother as soon as possible, getting the baby out, performing CPR, and saving his life, the attorney apparently believes that the paramedics were supposed to diddle around arguing about whether or not to transport the mother to a hospital. Good idea. Let’s write that requirement into all future Florida EMS protocols. We can call it the “Kelley Amendment” — named after Bob Kelley, the plaintiff’s attorney in the case.

After the verdict, the ambulance company may soon have to determine whether it can stay in business.

A past-president of the American Ambulance Association is quoted as saying “EMTs and paramedics will go on the call until lawsuits like this break the bank and they can’t go anymore. That is $10 million that comes out of the ability to provide care, and the community will suffer because of that cost.”

As I’ve asked in the past, which is more important — perfect care or available care?

Jurors in Florida’s Volusia County seem to have made their decision.

It will be interesting to see whether the jurors’ decision to award an additional $10 million to someone who had the benefit of excellent care yet who experienced a bad outcome will affect the future availability of emergency transport in Volusia County and other Florida counties.

My guess is that few EMTs will want to work in Volusia County any more.

Regardless of the verdict, you EMTs are still heroes in my book.

WhiteCoat is an emergency physician who blogs at WhiteCoat’s Call Room at Emergency Physicians Monthly.

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