Bill would give EMS services same legal protections as other healthcare providers
A bill would add emergency medical services (EMS) personnel and provider services state protections on medical malpractice.
HB162 sponsor Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, said that this came about after a $6.3 million lawsuit, settled November 2022, in which Anniston EMS was responsible for paying nearly all the damages.
In 2016, the Anniston EMS responded to a 911 call from Walter Ellswick by “staging” two blocks away, meaning they waited there until police arrived. Ellswick’s wife, Charlotte, was having a heart attack, but because he called 911 four times, the dispatcher asked 911 to send police because the caller was agitated by the slow response. Charlotte died awaiting medical care while EMS was staged two blocks away.
The Calhoun County Emergency Management Communication District and the 911 dispatcher, Donna Williamson, were responsible for about 5% of the damages, about $300,000, according to The Anniston Star.
“The ambulance got sued for multi-millions, even though their culpability was much less than the operator, but they got sued because they had insurance,” Oliver said. “So, we decided we better go back and take a look at the way we do that.”
The Alabama Medical Liability Act (AMLA), passed in 1996, provides protections for “medical practitioner, dental practitioner, medical institution, physician, dentist, hospital, or other health care provider,” which includes podiatry, chiropractic services and optometry.
Under the law, damages against healthcare providers must be itemized. Awards exceeding $150,000 must be paid in installments over several years. AMLA also requires malpractice claims to be filed within two years of an incident. If the injuries were not discovered within that two-year period, the limit is four years.
Mark Jackson, the executive director of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA), representing physicians in the state, said the group is not involved with this bill, and only recently had a chance to review it.
“If this bill were to pass and EMS were to be included under the Medical Liability Act, in theory, you might have a reduction in the number of jury verdicts, particularly high jury verdicts that affect the cost of health care,” he said.
A message seeking comment was left with the Alabama EMS Association.