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Emergency Responders Face Malpractice Liability After Accident

Dorothy Cowles, an 89-year-old woman, has filed a claim of medical malpractice against Ellington Volunteer Ambulance Corps in a Vernon Superior Court. The emergency responders are alleged to have insufficiently secured a stretcher that was used to transport her into an ambulance and caused her to fall. Donna Sypeck, her daughter, is also a named plaintiff. Sypeck claims to have endured significant emotional distress during the incident involving her mother. They are seeking an unknown amount of financial compensation. Other named defendants include Peter Hany, who is the president of the organization, and another emergency technician named Brandon Clark.

Incident Details

The ambulance responded at close to 7 p.m. that evening. Cowles was placed on a stretcher for transport into the vehicle that was destined for Rockville General Hospital. The technicians are alleged to have “lost control of the stretcher” causing Cowles to go crashing to the ground. Her nose and a bone below one of her eyes were both fractured. Other injuries included a deviated septum, bruising, and other related pain. An attorney for the plaintiff stated that she believed that Cowles was still suffering months after the event. As a result of the injuries, she also incurred significant medical expenses, needed residential assistance, and both occupational and physical therapy.

About the Responders

The Ellington Volunteer Ambulance Corps is a small, non-profit provider of emergency medical services to Ellington and many of the neighboring communities. They do employ both paid staff and volunteers.

Allegations of Negligence

Some of the allegations in the claim against the defendants are as follows:

  • The defendants failed to fasten the plaintiff to the Reeves stretcher using the straps as provided
  • The defendants attempting to transport the plaintiff on the stretcher using an insufficient number of people to safely complete the transfer
  • They failed to properly stabilize or otherwise control the stretcher amid the transfer
  • A failure to properly inspect the ground upon which the transfer was made. The claim says the surface was uneven and had several holes.

Understanding Immunity

Are these emergency responders subject to “Good Samaritan” protections? Good Samaritan laws exist to encourage those who unexpectedly witness an emergency situation to lend assistance (aid) to the victims. All U.S. states have some variety of these laws in place. They are based on the concept that individuals who help those in peril should be entitled to protection from any civil liabilities. This immunity is intended to apply to those who are not lending this assistance according to the requirements of their employment duties. What about doctors and other medical staff who are providing care while on-duty?

Washington D.C. Law

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. address this topic clearly within the provisions of Code# 7-401. Any medical personnel who are acting in good faith to provide emergency response for individuals are not generally liable for actions (or inactions) that could lead to civil actions. The exception is if the actions were the result of gross negligence. Actions of gross negligence can be summarized as those conducted intentionally, recklessly, or without regard for safety.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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