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Supreme Court questions ambulance driver's duty to report patient abuse by EMT partner

Jane Doe, a 14-year old (restrained) patient being transported from one hospital to another after an attempted suicide, was molested in the rear of a Superior Ambulance Service vehicle by an EMT.  The driver of the ambulance suspected that something was amiss behind him and texted to co-workers soliciting advice.  He didn't take effective action to end the abuse, however, and by the end of the 53-minute drive, the child had been digitally penetrated and would not make eye contact.  On her behalf, her father filed suit against the perpetrator, the driver and the ambulance service.

Several months ago, a majority of the three judge Court of Appeals' panel considering the case made several signficant rulings:  it held that merely transporting a non-emergent patient did not bring the Emergency Medical Services Act into play.  Since neither the EMT nor the driver were "treating" Jane Doe, they were not entitled to immunity from ordinary negligence.

The Court of Appeals also held that under the Child Protection Law, the driver owed a duty to "immediately" report his suspicions of abuse, and could be held liable if he negligently failed to respond to this duty, thereby becoming a contributing "cause" of the abuse.  Finally, the Court held that the driver and ambulance service could amend their answers and blame the since-convicted EMT, thereby apportioning the vast majority of fault to the convicted felon, even though they were not in compliance with the Court Rule determining when such a third-party fault allegation may be filed.

This week the Supreme Court handed down a decision on the parties' appeal of the Court of Appeals' ruling.  The Supreme Court affirmed the late fault notice by the Defendants, despite their lack of due diligence, and also upheld the lower court's interpretation that the Emergency Medical Services Act did not apply.  Nevertheless, the Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court to reconsider that court's ruling that the child protection act applied to the driver's conduct and created a duty to protect Jane Doe from the partner's abuse.  The high court directed the Court of Appeals to reconsider this ruling in the context of other sections of the child protection act. 

It will be a travesty if the Court ultimately concludes that the driver owed no duty to intercede to protect the restrained child from abuse by his partner.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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