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The Maryland Supreme Court recently ruled that the state’s Good Samaritan law does not relieve commercial ambulance companies from liability in the event of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The incident that led to the lawsuit began in 2007, when a minor child was having trouble breathing and was taken to the Easton Memorial Hospital for treatment. Once there, doctors inserted a breathing tube to ensure he received oxygen. However, the hospital was not equipped to handle intubated children and doctors tried to transfer the boy to a pediatric intensive care unit at the nearby University of Maryland Medical System. UMMS then arranged for PHI Air Medical to transport the boy by helicopter to their facility.

A paramedic team including a UMMS pediatric nurse, a PHI flight paramedic, a PHI flight nurse and a paramedic employed by TransCare were all on board the helicopter. The TransCare employee had been invited to ride along as part of an orientation for the company’s contract as a ground ambulance transport company with UMMS.

When the team arrived at Easton Memorial Hospital the TransCare paramedic, Chris Barbour, set up the equipment and placed the boy on the helicopter. Shortly after taking off the child’s heart rate and oxygen levels dropped because the breathing tube had become dislodged. The flight team tried unsuccessfully to find an air mask for the boy until the helicopter landed and the storage area was searched. The boy was later re-intubated and his levels returned to normal for the duration of the trip.

Sadly, the lack of oxygen led to serious brain damage to the young boy who is now blind, deaf and mentally disabled. The boy’s family has since filed suit claiming that TransCare committed medical malpractice because their employee, Barbour, failed to provide the requisite standard of care.

TransCare argued they ought to be immune from the med mal suit given that the state’s Good Samaritan Act specifies that volunteer fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads are all immune from liability for ordinary negligence in emergency situations.

The Maryland Supreme Court rejected this claim, saying that TransCare failed to demonstrate that it functioned like a rescue company. Given this failure, the company was not entitled to statutory immunity. The Court held that only if a commercial ambulance company is able to clearly demonstrate that it functions like a rescue company would it ever be entitled to immunity.

Though most doctors strive to do good for each and every patient, mistakes happen that can leave people seriously injured or even dead. In such tragic cases it’s important that the people or companies responsible be held financially accountable for the damage they did. In this case, it appears the boy’s family will be able to pursue a civil claim for damages against TransCare. Though the money will never truly compensate them for their horrible loss, it helps send an important warning to other companies and, in so doing, hopefully saves lives.


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