Personal injury cases can often be complicated legal matters that involve a number of responsible parties. They become even more complex when the case involves a government agency, as a recent case out of West Virginia’s Supreme Court shows. The good news is that the law gives injured persons at least a limited right to pursue damages from a negligent government agency.
Mr. and Mrs. Miller called Randolph County 911 in February 2010, explaining that their daughter was ill and had fallen in the bathroom of their home. The County emergency operators then contacted Elkins-Randolph County Emergency Squad, a separate government entity that provides emergency medical services in the area. The Millers called 911 again six minutes later, explaining that their daughter was still unconscious and asking the operator to hurry in sending an ambulance to the house. The EMS arrived at the Miller’s home roughly 22 minutes after the first call. By that point, the Millers had already driven their daughter to the hospital in their own car. She had no pulse when she arrived at the emergency room and was pronounced dead three hours later.
The Millers later sued Randolph County 911 and Elkins-Randolph County EMS, alleging that they were negligent in failing to properly train their employees and failing to adequately respond to the calls. The County 911 eventually settled the claims against it. Granting summary judgment to the EMS, however, a circuit court held that the governmental agency was immune from suit for duties owed to the general public. The State Supreme Court agreed on appeal.
The Millers argued that the EMS was liable under the “special relationship” doctrine that has been developed over the years by state courts. Typically, a local government entity can only be liable for negligence if it has breached a duty owed directly to the person suing, rather than a duty owed to the public as a whole. In certain situations, however, the courts have said a claim can be maintained against a government entity based on a “special relationship” between the entity and the person suing that creates a duty owed directly to the person suing. To prove that a special relationship exists, it must be shown that the government entity assumed a duty to act through promises or actions, knew that inaction could lead to harm, and had some form of direct contact with the person suing.
Here, the Supreme Court said there was no direct contact between the Millers and the EMS. Instead, they spoke to the County 911, which then relayed messages to the EMS. “In fact, petitioner admitted on the record that neither she nor her husband, nor the decedent, spoke with anyone employed with respondent on the day of the subject incident,” the Court said. As a result, it affirmed the ruling for the EMS.
Despite the ruling in this case, it’s important to note that a person injured by government or medical negligence has a wide range of legal tools available. Indeed, the Millers were able to reach a settlement with the County 911 on some of their claims. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, the West Virginia child injury lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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