How Mich. responders triple breached an absolute duty to respond

An ambulance crew had a duty to get out of the ambulance, thoroughly inspect the scene for the patient, look for evidence that a patient fled, and document their response

Michigan responders took nearly two hours to arrive and locate a driver – who was in the driver seat, of all places – after a witness made three 911 calls to report the car accident. I am almost too dumbfounded to provide legal analysis about the incident.

The calm – perhaps too calm – demeanor of the 911 operator is understandable; to be effective, a 911 operator cannot be stirred – visibly – by the calls to which they must respond. I get the calm response.

But I cannot comprehend how 10, 20, and 30 minutes pass with no response at all to the incident. How does that happen? This incident – unfortunately not entirely unique to the State of Michigan (recall the Detroit EMT who refused to respond to an infant in cardiac arrest) – takes negligence to a new, uncharted level.

Breach of duty to respond

Most significantly, this case shines a glaring spotlight on the "breach" element of negligence.

A breach of a duty, in this case, the duty to respond, exists where one owes the duty, a reasonable provider with the same level of training and experience in the same locale would act on that duty, but the actual duty-holder fails to do so.

Here, a caller activated 911, an operator took the call and nobody responded to the incident. The civilian called again and nobody responded. The civilian called a third time and still, nobody responded. That is a triple-breach of duty to respond!

What makes this story even more egregious is the fact that – allegedly – an ambulance did respond to the scene –– and the crew did not locate the driver who was later found by another ambulance crew in the driver’s seat!

I have been on calls myself where vehicle occupants were not where I expected them to be; wedged up under the steering console, for example. But we found those patients by looking.

If an ambulance crew did, in fact, arrive on the scene without locating the driver, it is clear that they did not do an adequate or appropriate assessment of the scene.

Using a negligence analysis, the ambulance crew had an absolute duty (see Wright v. City of Los Angeles and Zepeda v. City of Los Angeles) to get out of the ambulance and thoroughly examine the wreckage, open the doors, check the passenger compartment thoroughly, look under the vehicle, and check the close surrounding area for evidence of an injured person who may have fled the scene, like blood or personal belongings.

In this case, it seems that they did not get out of the ambulance.

Let this be a lesson to any EMS provider who thinks that something is nothing; everything is something until you assess and prove that it’s nothing.

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