The complexities of assigning blame

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: The family of a Pa. man who died waiting for an ambulance last winter can't sue federally, a judge said. Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says when there is a disastrous event that can be tied back to the disaster, the legal outcomes can be long and drawn out.

This past winter saw EMS systems across the country struggled under tremendous conditions to provide service to their communities. Especially across the northeast, the onslaught of storms made passage down city streets downright impossible at times.

In New York City, there was a change in leadership after that city's system was unable to respond after a historic snowfall. As much as we know that these events can, and will occur, it remains paramount that we preplan and prepare for such eventualities. That planning needs to involve other agencies, since so many are involved with the mitigation of such large events.

In this situation, when there is a disastrous event that can't be tied back to the disaster, the legal outcomes can be long and drawn out. We've reported and commented on this story when it first came out in 2010.

This report speaks to the federal ruling that limits the damages than can be sought by the surviving family, and narrows the scope of damage to the specific events of that incident. This makes sense — it's apparent that while there may be issues of response and care directly related to the case, there wasn't a systemic lack of responsibility by the agency as a whole.

It's not that the event wasn't tragic — certainly there are real issues to address, which is why the courts exist to examine and rule on those issues. Under extraordinary situations though, it becomes much more complex to assign blame and provide a ruling. It will be interesting to see how this case resolves.

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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