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.
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.
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:
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:
Lawsuits for EMT negligence are fact-specific and can be tough to win. Our experienced personal injury lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & 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.