Tort Law

Editor:
Keith A. Cutler, Esquire

EMTs employed by city-owned ambulance services are protected by official immunity only when the acts in question are discretionary and not ministerial.  Richardson v. Burrow, No. 97002 (Mo. App. E.D., February 21, 2012), Norton, J.

Decedent went into respiratory distress and the city-owned ambulance service was called.  Upon responding, one of the EMTs erroneously placeda endotracheal tube in Decedent’s esophagus instead of his trachea, causing him to suffer a brain injury resulting in death.  Decedent’s widow brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the ambulance service and against the EMT.   The EMT filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of official immunity.   The motion was granted and Plaintiff appealed.

Held
: Reversed and remanded.  Public employees are protected from liability under the official immunity doctrine to the extent their actions in question were discretionary, and not ministerial.  City ambulance guidelines mandate that a patient be intubated whenever their respiration rate is 8 breaths or less per minute, and their oxygen saturation level is below 80%.  Here, Decedent met both criteria, and pursuant to city guidelines, the EMT was required to intubate Decedent.  Because the EMT had no choice and was required to do so by city guidelines, his actions in intubating Decedent were not discretionary; they were ministerial.  As such, the EMT was not protected by official immunity, and the trial court’s granting of the EMT’s motion to dismiss was erroneous.

Note:
See also summary under Civil Practice and Procedure, supra.