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EMTs protected by official immunity, court rules

An appeals court has determined that city-employed emergency medical technicians can be protected by official immunity, comparing their conduct to police officers rather than health care professionals.

In a case of first impression, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District said on Tuesday that official immunity can be applied to EMTs’ conduct on a case-by-case basis. (Missouri Lawyers Weekly subscribers can click here to read the opinion summary.)

Lee Richardson sued the city of St. Louis and city-employed EMT Bryan Burrow after Lee’s husband, Stanford Richardson Sr., died. She alleged that Burrow improperly intubated her husband causing him to suffer a brain injury that resulted in his death. She sued the city for negligently training and supervising its employees and Burrow for his negligence.

St. Louis Circuit Judge David Dowd granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss finding that the city was entitled to sovereign immunity and Burrow was protected by official immunity.

The court of appeals, finding no applicable case law regarding official immunity as it applies to emergency medical personnel, used a Minnesota Court of Appeals’ case, Bailey v. City of St. Paul, on which to base its decision. In Bailey, the Minnesota court found that government-employed paramedics should be held to the same standard as police officers who have to make split-second decisions, rather than doctors who have the luxury of time to peruse a specific treatment option.

The Missouri Court of Appeals used the rational in Bailey to determine that there were situations where official immunity would apply to the conduct of an EMT, but it must be determined whether the conduct was discretionary or ministerial before official immunity could shield the employee.

The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, and the court affirmed the city’s defense of sovereign immunity.

The case is Lee Richardson v. City of St. Louis and Bryan Burrow, ED91995.

Read more on this story in Wednesday’s papers.