A Personal Injury Case Study
This case example illustrates some important legal issues with ambulance accidents. We'll review the ambulance crash, determine liability, review the victim's injuries, discuss settlement negotiations, and reveal the final case resolution.
Esther Lee was a 90-year-old, very frail woman who lived in a retirement park. She had a mild, non life-threatening stroke in the presence of her family members who immediately called 9-1-1. The emergency personnel were dispatched to her home within 3 minutes and placed Esther on a gurney, thereafter transporting her to the ambulance.
Once in the ambulance however, the emergency medical technicians failed to secure Mrs. Lee to the gurney and failed to secure the gurney to the emergency straps within the ambulance. While driving in excess of the speed limit with emergency lights and sirens sounding, the ambulance hit a car at an intersection.
The impact caused the gurney to impact the back of the ambulance jerking Mrs. Lee to the floor. A piece of medical equipment also fell from the wall hitting Mrs. Lee in the head causing a large hematoma. Mrs. Lee then had to be transported by a second ambulance to the emergency room causing a delay in treatment.
Normally, there is state immunity to emergency personnel for ambulance accidents like this. However, when they perform their duties negligently, they are liable. Here, the negligence lies in:
(1) failing to secure Mrs. Lee to the gurney;
(2) failing to secure the gurney to the emergency straps within the ambulance; and
(3) failing to secure other emergency equipment to the interior, resulting in those items dislodging and striking Mrs. Lee in the head, causing further injury to her.
Not only are the medical employees liable, but the Ambulance Service (here, Ambu-Tech) might also be liable for failing to properly supervise and train their employees.
There may also be liability if another driver failed to observe the right of way of an emergency vehicle and thereby caused the ambulance wreck in the first place.
Mrs. Lee had already had a stroke and therefore she was in a fragile state. The law does not recognize the fragility of Mrs. Lee, however.
In fact, the law requires us to take the plaintiff as we find them, so if Mrs. Lee's condition rendered her more susceptible to injury due to age, fragility, her stroke or any other physical condition, this will not limit the liability of the defendant.
Mrs. Lee had a cerebral hematoma. The treatment for her stroke was also delayed which caused more bleeding to the brain and temporaray paralysis to her left side. This might have been remedied had they arrived at the emergency room in a more timely fashion. She also endured the emotional suffering of being fully coherent but unable to escape from inside an ambulance in a violent collision which literally tossed her about its interior.
Mrs. Lee's medical bills were $7,500 for the treatment of her contusion. She also received some therapy to address the shock of her experience which totaled $2,500.
The insurance for the Ambulance Company offered Mrs. Lee $20,000 to settle her case. Her adult daughter was an attorney and agreed to negotiate the claim with the adjuster. She counter-offered with the sum of $50,000 for Mrs. Lee's pain, suffering and medical bills arising from the ambulance accident.
After numerous back and forth discussions between Mrs. Lee's daughter and the insurance adjuster, the case settled for $40,000. Because Mrs. Lee's daughter helped her mother out of the goodness of her heart, there were no attorney's fees.
Mrs. Lee's daughter also assisted with the medical bills and negotiated them from $7,500 to $4,000 and from $2,500 to $2,000. Therefore her out-of-pocket expenses totalled only $6,000 and Mrs. Lee received a net amount of $34,000 for her pain and suffering.
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