Were EMTs/New York City Liable for Negligent Transport?
Yaugeni Kralkin allegedly was injured when (apparently intoxicated) he unbuckled his restraints and jumped from a New York City ambulance while being transported to a hospital. Supreme Court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Kralkin appealed.
Under the doctrine of governmental function immunity, government action, if discretionary, may not be a basis for liability. But ministerial actions may be, but only if they violate a special duty owed to the plaintiff, apart from any duty to the public in general.
A public employee’s discretionary acts may not result in a municipality’s liability even when the conduct is negligent. In other words, even if a plaintiff establishes all of the elements of a negligence cause of action, a municipal defendant engaging in a governmental function can avoid liability if it timely raises the defense and proves that the alleged negligent act or omission involved the exercise of discretionary authority. Discretionary or quasi-judicial acts involve the exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different and acceptable results. Ministerial acts envision direct adherence to a governing rule or standard with a compulsory result.
A municipal emergency response system, including ambulance assistance rendered by first responders such as the emergency medical technicians employed by the Fire Department of the City of New York, is a classic governmental, rather than proprietary, function.
The actions taken by the EMTs in this case were discretionary. The EMTs testified at their depositions that they were trained to use their discretion in responding to each call, based on the individual patient. The EMTs here exercised reasoned judgment when they determined that the intoxicated Kralkin should be brought to the hospital because he could be a danger to himself or others. Because the actions of the EMTs were discretionary, the Court did not need to address the issue of whether a special duty was owed to Kralkin. Accordingly, Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the City’s motion was for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging negligence.
And Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the City’s’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging negligent hiring, retention, supervision, or training. The EMTs were acting within the scope of their employment when the incident occurred.