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Rescue squad members not covered by immunity statute

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Rescue squad members not covered by immunity statute

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At 5:12 AM, twenty-five-year-old Odis Murray was shot in the chest by his younger brother outside their home. His mother immediately called 911. A mobile intensive care unit was dispatched at 5:13 AM. The rescue squad arrived at the scene at 5:16 AM, began giving Odis CPR and oxygen, and hooked him to a defibrillator, which registered, “no shock advised”. They transported him to the hospital at 5:47 AM. Odis was pronounced dead at 6:10 AM.

The Murrays filed a wrongful death/survival action against the rescue squad. They alleged that Odis died because the squad delayed in taking him to the hospital. The Murrays sued the mobile intensive care unit, which they said either did not arrive or their members failed to take life-saving measures.

The trial court ruled that the mobile intensive care unit was shielded from liability and the Good Samaritan Act protected the rescue squad. The Appellate Division affirmed. On appeal, the issue raised was whether the NJSA 26:2K-14 provided immunity to the rescue squad.

In a decision reported in the NJ Law Journal on July 23, 2012, the Supreme Court held that the immunity statute covered only members of the rescue squad and not the squad itself. The rescue squad was subject to a civil suit for negligence.

In all of the analysis of the liability issue, what was missing from the discussion was whether Odis would have survived if he got to the hospital sooner. A direct gunshot wound to the chest is often fatal. Squad members on the scene of the shooting would likely have been in direct communication with the emergency department and receiving direction on how to help Odis. I can imagine the scene: police arresting the younger brother, a distraught mother, and the squad starting an IV and giving Odis oxygen. Once Odis was in the hospital, there would have been more delays. The operating room would need to be readied, the surgeon located, the OR nurses rounded up. Emergency departments are ill-equipped to perform major open chest surgery.

A horrible family tragedy had amazing repercussions.

Med League is a legal nurse consulting firm that assists attorneys handling cases involving medical negligence, personal injury and other litigation with medical issues at stake. Call us for assistance.

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