Why wrongful death charge is unlikely for EMT who refused to respond

A wrongful death suit would have to prove that an infant in cardiac arrest would have lived “but for” the failure of a Detroit EMT to act


Normally, I would caution people from a rush to judgement; it’s dangerous to draw conclusions without all of the information, like in the Eutisha Rennix case in New York, where the EMTs were actually found not liable despite swift and public rebuke.

However, even I have a hard time finding a viable defense for Detroit EMT Ann Marie Thomas, who was fired after refusing to respond to an infant in cardiac arrest. Assuming the evidence presented in the story is true, Thomas had an absolute duty to get on scene and initiate or continue CPR; to ensure a patent airway and to take every step possible using every tool at her disposal to save that life – knowing full well that an infant in cardiac arrest is unlikely to survive.

The only remotely viable defense would be a fear for her own safety. However, the fear would have to be reasonable (Zepeda v. City of Los Angeles) and there is nothing in the story to suggest that. She allegedly attempted to justify staging by saying, "I'm not about to be on no scene 10 minutes doing CPR, you know how these families get." That statement, by itself, would not lead a reasonable person to believe that she feared for her safety. Moreover, if she truly feared for her safety, she should have requested police. There’s no evidence of that either.

Wrongful death difficult to prove

Ethically speaking, her conduct is indefensible and the family will most assuredly pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. However, legally speaking, even if the allegations are found to be true - that she did willfully refuse to act where there was an absolute duty to do so - it will be difficult to prove that she is civilly or criminally liable for the wrongful death of the patient.

To prove wrongful death, the plaintiff would have to prove that “but for” her failure to act, the patient would not have died. We all know that infant cardiac arrest is almost always fatal despite even the best, most aggressive resuscitation efforts. In this case, I believe it will be difficult to conclusively attribute the death to this EMT’s failure to act. However, there may be other breach-related crimes or torts for which she is liable based on her conduct alone. In the administrative action against her EMT certification, which is absolutely going to come, she should expect to have her certification revoked - based on the information we have today.

While the unthinkably callous conduct of Thomas is sickening on a visceral level, there’s no way this incident occurred in a vacuum. I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that her conduct is a symptom of a much greater cultural failing in an EMS system that is rife with dissension, dysfunction, and discord. This will happen again.

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