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Do New York City EMTs Have a “Duty to Act”?

October 27, 2019 in

While on the clock, New York City Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) have a “duty to act,” which means they are legally obligated to administer care to consenting individuals who are in need of it. However, like most states, New York does not have a similar law or policy in place for those who are off-duty. During a medical or trauma situation, off-duty EMTs are not expected to behave any differently than other bystanders. Although, the public may have conflicting expectations on how an off-duty EMT should respond. 

What is the “Duty to Act?” 

The term “duty to act,” in its simplest form, is the legal requirement to take action in preventing harm to another person or the general public. For emergency medical services (EMS) providers, the courts have defined this duty as responding to calls in a swift, but safe, manner; performing a thorough assessment of both the patient and the circumstances; providing the appropriate treatment to consenting patients; and transporting to an appropriate receiving facility when transport is warranted.

“Duty to Act” Laws in New York

Although an off-duty EMT is not held to the “duty to act” by state law, they do have the choice to help a consenting individual who is injured. Whether on duty or not, once administering care, an EMT is required by law to continue helping until patient care can be transferred to a paramedic or a doctor, or another appropriate party. 

The failure to do so is termed “abandonment,” which according to N.Y. COMP. CODES R. & REGS. tit. 10, § 800.3(ao) can include, “leaving a patient unattended after establishing patient contact, leaving a patient to the care of an EMT certified at a lower level when the certificate holder knew or should have known that the patient required a higher level of care, and/or encouraging the patient and/or bystanders to reject transport to a hospital by ambulance unless it occurs within an organized multi patient/agency response.”

Additionally, EMTs must adhere to the “Flag Down Rule,” which states that uniformed (on-duty) medics must provide treatment to a person in distress if called to do so and must also notify dispatch.

What Happens When EMTs Fail in their “Duty to Act?”

New York law shields EMTs from liability for bad outcomes of good-faith efforts to help those in distress. However, neglecting their duty or being negligent with protocols may lead an EMT to be legally liable for an injury or death. Common examples of how duties are neglected, include: 

  • Failing to respond in an expeditious manner.
  • Failing to bring or use the right equipment at the scene.
  • Failing to administer the proper medication.
  • Failing to administer oxygen.
  • Failing to identify potentially fatal conditions that require a rapid response.
  • Failing to keep the ambulance equipment in functioning order.
  • Failing to adhere to evaluation or treatment procedures.
  • Negligent driving to the hospital.      
  • Abandoning the patient after beginning to administer care. 

Individuals who are injured due to an EMT failing in their duty to act, may have the option of filing a medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice claims in New York are appropriate when the following elements can be proven: 

  1. Duty of Care: the EMT owed a duty of care to the patient. 
  2. Breach of Duty of Care: The duty of care was breached by the EMT failing to act in a manner consistent with how another reasonable EMT would have if in a similar situation.
  3. Causation: The breach of care directly resulted in the patient’s injury. 
  4. Damages: Quantifiable damages resulted from the injury caused by the EMT’s conduct. 

Get Assistance from a New York Personal Injury Attorney

Lawsuits for EMT negligence are fact-specific and can be tough to win. Our experienced personal injury lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C. can determine if you have a viable case. Contact us today, online or by calling (212) 732-9000, and schedule a free case evaluation.