Auto accidents are an inevitable part of life for those who drive or travel in cars -- over the course of your lifetime, you'll probably be involved in at least 3 or 4 car crashes. These are usually fairly minor fender-benders that don't require medical treatment, but if you're involved in a more serious accident you may be treated at the scene by emergency medical personnel and sent home to rest and recuperate. What if you develop serious issues stemming from the accident after arriving home? Can you sue the emergency medical technicians for malpractice? Read on for some tips on what to do if you fear being sent home after an accident caused you serious injury.
How do you know whether malpractice occurred?
Although emergency medical technicians (EMTs) aren't licensed physicians, they are highly trained in the diagnosis and stabilization of a variety of serious conditions, from heart attacks to gunshot wounds. An EMT should be able to assess you at the scene of the accident and determine whether you require emergency treatment, follow-up treatment with a doctor in a few days, or if can simply be sent home. In some cases, you may develop complications after the accident -- however, not all complications may constitute malpractice.
The standard for malpractice for EMTs varies by state. Some states use a gross negligence standard, which means that you can only win a malpractice lawsuit if the EMT who treated you failed to abide by the standard of care in such a manner that surpassed mistake into negligence. For example, if you suffered a severe head injury during the accident and the EMT didn't assess you for a concussion or order a CT scan to be performed at the emergency room, but just treated the bleeding areas and sent you home, this could be considered negligence.
In other states, the EMT's conduct had to be deliberate and willful (for example, a refusal to treat you when it was obvious you needed help, or an inordinate delay in arriving to the scene of the accident while running personal errands). Unless your injuries were severe and fully preventable, it's unlikely you'll prevail in a malpractice lawsuit in a state with this legal standard. Therefore, whether certain actions (or inactions) constituted malpractice depends primarily on the state in which the accident occurred.
What should you do if you think the EMTs committed malpractice?
If you're confident that medical records and eyewitness testimony would corroborate malpractice, you'll need to take a few steps before you'll be able to recover a judgment.
First, you'll want to consult an experienced malpractice attorney who can fully explain the laws in your state and how they'll apply to the facts of your case. This attorney will also help you determine who you'll need to sue. In some cases (such as if a delay in EMT arrival was due to dispatcher negligence) your lawsuit may be against the 911 dispatcher or parent company. In other cases, you'll be able to sue the ambulance company or hospital employing the EMTs. Depending upon the severity of the negligence and the degree of control of each agency or company over the EMTs, you may be able to sue more than one entity.
Once the lawsuit has been filed, the defendant may request you to turn over certain documents or even undergo physical examination by a doctor to ensure your injuries are genuine. You may be interviewed under oath in a deposition. You'll have the right to have your attorney present with you during this entire process, and your attorney will be able to advise you on what you may decline to answer and how you can best protect yourself (and your case).
At some point, the defendant may offer to settle for a certain amount before trial. This settlement can help both sides avoid the expenses associated with a lengthy trial (and possibly appeal). It's often in your best interest to accept a settlement offer, as it will allow you quicker access to cash without risking a possible judgment in the defendant's favor. However, you'll want to check it out and ensure that the amount you're receiving is enough to cover your injuries and associated costs.