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Ex-medic gets $1.5M settlement for New Orleans ambulance injury

Medic was working on a gunshot victim when the ambulance hit a bump, causing bench to collapse

By EMS1 Staff

NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans paramedic received more than $1.5 million from Medtec Ambulance Corp. for injuries incurred while treating a patient in the back of an ambulance.

A federal jury found that Medtec was responsible for the design of the bench seat that caused the injuries of paramedic Ryan Earls, 26, in Dec. 2010, according to The Times-Picayune.

Earls was working on a gunshot victim when the ambulance reportedly hit a bump, causing the bench to collapse, said his attorney, David Oestreicher.

He was removed from the ambulance at the hospital, having sustained nerve damage as well as bulging discs in his back, said.

The seat had "imploded," said Earls's partner, paramedic Matthew Alewine, who was driving one of the 15 Medtec ambulances leased for 10 years to New Orleans Emergency Medical Services in 2010.

Earls returned to work as a dispatcher after the accident but could not do his job because of his nerve damage, and the city fired him in Jan., Ostreicher told

The jury's award to Earls included $200,000 for his loss of future wages and benefits, $600,000 in medical expenses and $700,000 for his pain and suffering.

The company's local counsel did not return a call for comment when contacted by the The Times-Picayune.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Randy Bean Randy Bean Friday, April 13, 2012 6:46:21 PM Good for him!
Lisa Renee Lambert Lisa Renee Lambert Sunday, April 15, 2012 7:20:54 AM That is not right that he got fired for geting hurt on the job.The money will not replace the career that he lost or the pain he will have for the rest of his life. Good for the court for his settlement, but I bet if giving the choice he would rather have his health.
ReneEddie Easter ReneEddie Easter Sunday, April 15, 2012 11:58:00 AM Awesome! He should have never gotten fired! Disability & help, yes. Fired, no.
Kim Weldon Kim Weldon Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:18:21 PM He had to be terminated. Otherwise he couldn't file for disability. If he wasn't fired, the defense could argue they he was still medically able to work. AND he worked for New Orleans EMS Jason, not Medtech.
David Harbour David Harbour Monday, April 16, 2012 10:41:25 AM Kim W is right, terminating him may have been the only way to cause all the insurances and such to kick in. The system doesn't do right by people automatically, because there are too many people that would just take advantage of it. Sad comment, but as a guy who's seen the other side of it, that's the way it is. I sprained my neck on one of the dumbest headstrike devices ever placed in an airplane. Everyone assumed I was just out to get a pay day. :-( I just wanted to get back to work and fortunately I did. My heart goes out to Ryan, it's not fun waking up every morning in pain. I used to dread going to sleep, because I knew how I'd wake up no matter what I did.
Mike Branum Mike Branum Monday, April 16, 2012 5:46:46 PM Jason, Medtec MANUFACTURES ambulances. He sued the manufacturer for faulty design. I would be interested in knowing what Mr. Earls' tips the scale at. The fire service is getting rounder and rounder and EMS as an industry was heading that way already. New Orleans has pretty easy access to a plethora of fried foods. We may have to start designing ambulances that are for bariatric caregivers, not just bariatric patients! Mr. Earls may well be 6'4" and 175 pounds. I am not implying that he is at fault here, however, IF he DOES weigh in at 500 pounds or more I would think Medtec would have a case that he exceeded the intended vehicle specifications. Also, if Mr. Earls is a portly fellow, I would expect to see ambulance manufacturers begin specifying weight capacities for seating positions in their apparatus to attempt to decrease their exposure to litigation.
Wendy Hoechstetter Wendy Hoechstetter Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:00:45 PM Lisa, he got fired because he was no longer able to work, even on light duty. No employer has an obligation to keep anyone on in that situation. When unable to continue working, then people do qualify for disability, but definitely not while still working. And no, nothing will compensate for the lost career or the ongoing pain, I can tell you from my own experience. The pain and suffering award is the best our legal system can do. At least he got that. It will go a long ways towards helping him keep a roof over his head, especially if he isn't able to work again.
Wendy Hoechstetter Wendy Hoechstetter Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:05:06 PM Why would you even begin to think he might be so big, Mike? I've certainly not seen any 500 pounders who could even get into the back of an ambulance unaided, let alone do the rest of this job, have you? Seriously? I am quite sure that if his weight were indeed a factor that that base would have been well-explored in the lawsuit.
Mike Branum Mike Branum Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:39:17 PM Wendy Hoechstetter - Why would you be quite sure? We are talking about a legal team that obviously underestimated the validity of the plaintiff's case since they lost in a jury trial. I would imagine THEY are doubting themselves, but YOU are "quite sure" every base was well explored in the lawsuit? You must be a much more astute legal mind than I. I read in a comment in another post that Mr. Earls is under 200. I cannot attest to the validity of this statement, but I have no reason to doubt it. As for your incredulous reaction to my pondering if the plaintiff was morbidly obese, I have worked in EMS in four states and yes, I have seen individuals that were in the 500 pound neighborhood who were doing the job (poorly, but scraping by). I would argue that the 350 range could not even be considered uncommon in the industry. I am not sure how much exposure you have had to the EMS industry across the country as a California interior designer, but I am comfortable you can consider me a reasonably knowledgeable source for information on EMS in the United States. As to why I would "begin to think he might be so big?" A) A morbidly obese individual would be more likely to tax the materials of the bench seat beyond their design specifications, B) a morbidly obese individual would be more likely to be injured in a bench seat failure than a person with a higher fitness level, C) a morbidly obese individual would have a more difficult time recovering from the type of injury sustained in the incident in question, and D) SOME morbidly obese individuals would be looking at an injury of this kind as an opportunity to get paid NOT to work. I am curious why you would think this line of thought would be illogical.
Wendy Hoechstetter Wendy Hoechstetter Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:27:53 PM Mike Branum I think a decade in the field as an EMT and paramedic crew chief and training officer (plus several decades teaching first aid and CPR) in four states from one side of the country to another (including Texas) before landing on the permanently-disabled-from-an-OTJ-injury list qualifies me pretty well to make observations about EMS issues ;-> I have personally never seen anyone that big working in EMS that I know of or that I recall. Your mileage obviously varies. I would agree that 350 is certainly not unheard of, although not necessarily extremely common, either. I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it's not the first thought I would have had, particularly after reading the accompanying newspaper article that said that the jury found that Medtec "...knowingly designed a dangerous ambulance bench seat that caused paramedic Ryan Earls' injuries..." - emphasis on the "knowingly". And as a designer, I understand more than a little bit about design specifications and codes, because that is part of my responsibilities, to make sure that what I specify is adequate for the job and stresses to which it is going to be subjected. My ass could be liable if it's not and someone is injured as a result. What I do not know about is codes for bench seats in ambulances, but I do know something about product liability lawsuits relating to people being injured by collapsing seating due to knowledge of some such lawsuits, including in a hospital environment. I've also got some legal education, and believe me, issues such as the plaintiff's weight and whether or not it exceeded the specs of the product *will* come up in the course of a lawsuit of this nature, if there's any chance it's a factor. For all we know, this award could be much less than it might have otherwise been if the guy is in fact morbidly obese. We do not know the facts of the case, so we have no idea why the defense went to trial instead of settling, but stones like this are simply not left unturned in lawsuits. Medtec would have been the first to raise it if indeed it's a factor. You might want to consider that what you see publicly about a person on Facebook is not the full extent of their background, especially when most of the profile is hidden behind privacy controls ;->
Wendy Hoechstetter Wendy Hoechstetter Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:03:09 PM Mike Branum OK, I got curious and looked up the case. I can only access an order denying a motion for summary judgment, but that much makes it clear that Earls' weight was not at issue. Another newspaper article cites Earls's partner as saying that "...the seat 'imploded,' its bracket and hinges had come off, and screws stripped from the wall, according to court filings".
Mike Branum Mike Branum Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:11:19 PM Wendy Hoechstetter Yup. I saw the motions for summary judgment as well. I suspected that either you had some experience in the field in some fashion or you had a close family member actively or formerly in EMS. There is a lot more that we don't know about this case than what we do, unfortunately (because I would love more details, I find this case really interesting). Maintenance records? Modifications? Age of the unit? Miles / hours? Pictures? Blueprints? Sigh. We'll likely never get any more than we have because there is nothing sensational about the information. Benchseats will probably go by the wayside in the next few years anyway as the industry moves toward caregivers being restrained during patient care. In the interim, I see better design concepts coming out of Medtec in the future, lol!
Wendy Hoechstetter Wendy Hoechstetter Friday, April 20, 2012 6:16:39 PM Mike Branum I find it interesting as well. If Medtec appeals the verdict, we ought to eventually be able to access the judgment of the appeals court. Most lower court decisions aren't published to start with, but some of the published appeals cases end up readily available for the public to read on sites like Justia. The articles state that this was a brand new rig, and no mods were mentioned, so I doubt that maintenance at least was an issue. The description of the seat lacking support member beams and having loose screws was pretty damning, though. An ambulance hitting a bump and having the attendant bounce hard on the bench seat as described is well within the expected use of that seat and rig. It's about time the industry is moving towards finding a way to restrain the caregivers in the back of a moving ambulance while still allowing them to work. I always found it richly ironic how vulnerable *we* were during transport.
Missy Cantrell Lacoste Missy Cantrell Lacoste Friday, May 11, 2012 3:38:58 PM After reading this article am glad that I did not choose this as my career choice. I was taking the EMT Basic course at Delgado Community College. I realized after doing my community service hours and being jerked around in the back of the EMS truck for 12 hours straight! Sorry but it was miserable! I feel so bad for this man because I can imagine that he suffered great pain & suffering. I warn anyone planning on taking the EMT course at Delgado, make sure this is something that you really are sure you want to do because the ladies who teach the class are like 80 years old, and they constantly miss class and take at least 4 smoke brakes per class! It was absolutely ridiculus. I suffered because of it, and they were like O well!

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