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Has the EMS world gone lawsuit crazy?

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Dear Mr. Werfel,

I have taught basic and intermediate EMTs for two years now, and as my school prepares for new classes in the fall, they're requesting that I attend several classes on diversity and the like. They're also advising me to secure my own malpractice insurance. Has the EMS world gone lawsuit crazy over the last year or what? Do you see any reason why instructors should be concerned?

Thanks for your help on this

Lawrence in Maryland

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Lawrence,

You didn't mention whether you taught for a college, municipality or a private organization. But even so, the easy answer to your question about the amount of lawsuits is "yes." It appears that plaintiffs are involving EMS in medical malpractice cases much more than they used to.

As an EMS standard of care expert witness, I can tell you that since 2000 I haven't been without a case pending on my calendar. I have been an EMS provider since 1975, but it seems that only in the last several years this has become an issue. Please understand that attorneys can imply that if the provider made a mistake, then the instructor that educated them is also liable.

To be honest, there is a huge area of potential liability for instructors and program directors. In fact, during my 17-year tenure at Stony Brook University, I can say with certainty that today's students (not only EMS students) are more willing than ever to secure the services of an attorney to address perceived wrongs. These issues are not only related to the obvious academic issues of scores, passing and failing exams, breaches of student confidentiality and academic dishonesty. Today's EMS instructor needs to concern themselves with much more than that. Other areas of potential exposure are:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act issues;
  • Lack of effective documentation;
  • Instructor/Course Director not following the institution's policy and procedures;
  • Discrimination;
  • Harassment;
  • Sexual Harassment;
  • Student injuries while on clinicals or from faulty equipment; and
  • Failure to supervise other students and instructors

As you can see, it's not your parent's classroom any more. We need to demonstrate the values we wish to see in our students. Judiciously using common sense, knowing where the problems are, and avoiding these issues are at the core of keeping us out of the legal minefield.

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