New Jersey Supreme Court Reinstates Claim Against Rescue Squad

Personal injury and wrongful death claims against municipalities and government agencies present special challenges to injury victims and survivors who deserve compensation for harm caused by negligent employees or public servants.

A recent decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated a wrongful death claim against the Plainfield Rescue Squad due to an alleged delay in transporting a gunshot victim. The circumstances behind the lawsuit involved a 25-year-old Plainfield man who had been shot outside his parents’ home.

The man’s mother, a critical-care nurse, called 911 immediately after finding her son, who was conscious and able to speak. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) were dispatched and arrived promptly, but did not transport the man for more than thirty minutes. A mobile intensive care unit was also dispatched but, according to the parents, never arrived.

The mother questioned the EMTs about their failure to intubate her son or transport him, later characterizing their reaction as looking like “deer in headlights.” Her son was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital due to a bullet that perforated his aorta and severed his spinal cord.

The parents filed a survivor action against the rescue squad and medical center, claiming that the negligence of the EMTs resulted in a failure to provide critical emergency medical treatment and promptly transport their son to the hospital. The wrongful death lawsuit also named the local medical center’s mobile intensive care unit.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants, finding that they were protected by various New Jersey immunity statutes regarding paramedic and life support services, as well as the state’s “Good Samaritan” law. On appeal, the Appellate division affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of both claims.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey disagreed, holding that the statute cited to dismiss the claim against the rescue squad conferred immunity on the individual EMTs but not on the municipal entity that employed them. The justices noted that the legislature has created a range of immunity law that take into account both entity and individual immunity, and the plain meaning of the statutory language in this case was clear.

Claims against local, county and state government entities trigger challenging legal issues created by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act and other laws. A government claims attorney can help clients maneuver the legal maze and understand the stricter limits imposed on these claims.