An action was brought against volunteer emergency medical providers alleging that the victim suffered severe permanent injuries due to the providers' willful and wanton negligence in failing to timely discover that the accident did not kill the victim. Generally, an emergency medical provider’s treatment of an accident victim, in determining that the victim is dead and not initiating efforts to resuscitate the victim, comes within the statute providing immunity for emergency medical care providers. An exception to immunity exists for conduct that is grossly negligent or wanton. In this case, the victim suffered an open head wound and the providers did not initiate resuscitation efforts. The court noted that “(t)here is no doubt that the acts or omissions of defendants which resulted in plaintiff's being erroneously declared dead and thus denied attempts at resuscitation could be characterized as inadvertence or carelessness of a very high degree or magnitude.”
The court cited examples from cases where the conduct was found to be “willful and wanton,” noting that each case demonstrated a discrepancy between the emergency personnel’s knowledge and their actions: knowledge that a person was suffering a potentially fatal asthma attack but failing even to attempt to open an unlocked door; knowledge that a person was unsecured on a stretcher with unstable legs placed on a pothole and leaving the person unattended despite this knowledge; and knowledge that a person was having an allergic reaction and had difficulty breathing but still waiting seven to eight minutes to administer medication.
In this case, the problem was the defendants' lack of knowledge: they did not know that the plaintiff was alive. Even if their lack of knowledge was caused by a negligent failure to conduct a sufficiently thorough examination to establish whether the plaintiff was living or deceased, this was still ordinary negligence, not intentional wrongdoing or deliberate misconduct. Therefore, the volunteer emergency medical providers' treatment of the accident victim did not amount to gross negligence or wanton conduct under the exclusion in the statute providing immunity for emergency medical care providers. The trial court entered summary judgment for the defendants, and the appellate court affirmed.
See: Green ex rel. Crudup v. Kearney, 719 S.E.2d 137 (N.C.App. Nov 15, 2011).