Be Prepared for Sexual Assault Allegations Against Your Paramedics

Fortunately it doesn’t occur TOO often, but it does happen. So don’t be caught unprepared if a patient makes allegations of sexual assault against one of your paramedics. Some key steps to take:

1. Get your service’s lawyer involved in the situation as early as possible. Your attorney should promptly interview all available witnesses, including the paramedic involved, the paramedic’s partner in the ambulance crew, any law enforcement personnel who are involved, and any fire or other rescue personnel and bystanders from the scene.

2. Unlike most tort claims, such as ambulance accidents and malpractice allegations, your service’s interests and your paramedic’s interests will not necessarily be identical. Thus, you should consider retaining separate legal counsel for your paramedic if the patient files a criminal charge against the medic. Even if it turns out that your medic did something inappropriate, your service will benefit in any related civil proceedings if your paramedic has capable legal representation in the criminal case, especially during the early stages of the process.

3. If it appears likely that the patient will pursue legal action against your service, go ahead and gather up the documentation that will show your service acted reasonably in hiring, training and supervising the paramedic. This information will include materials such as (1) results of the paramedic’s background check, (2) training materials documenting the paramedic was advised of the service’s policies regarding avoiding inappropriate contact with patients, and (3) the paramedic’s personnel file, which hopefully will show a lack of any prior problems or patient complaints against the medic.

There have been several recent reports regarding sexual assault allegations against paramedics. For example, there were recent charges against paramedics in Connecticut, “Paramedic Accused of Sexual Assault Inside Ambulance”, and in New Hampshire, “Paramedic Charged With Assaulting Patient”.

An Ottawa judge recently acquitted a Canadian paramedic of criminal charges that he had fondled a semi-conscious female patient while she was strapped to a stretcher in the back of the ambulance, “Renfrew Paramedic Acquitted of Fondling Patient”.

If you do have to deal with this kind of unfortunate situation, keep in mind that there are several common elements of such claims based upon my experience. The patient usually claims the assault took place while she (and most of the claimants are female) was alone in the back of the ambulance with the paramedic. Often, the patient who alleges the assault was in an altered mental state at the time of the purported assault, whether due to drugs, alcohol or a medical condition. The claimant sometimes pursues criminal charges against the paramedic in addition to civil claims against the EMS service; if the patient just sues your service and doesn’t pursue criminal charges against the paramedic, that is a good sign she is interested primarily in monetary recovery.

Finally, in my experience defending several of these kinds of cases, the patient/plaintiff often (though my no means in every case) has some signs of mental illness, whether it has been diagnosed previously or not. If the claim results in litigation, your attorney should consider having an independent medical (mental) examination performed on the plaintiff. Most states have procedural rules that allow for such examinations, and a qualified mental health professional can often determine if the plaintiff has psychological issues that might lead to making unsupported allegations, or simply mistaking necessary medical contact (such as, for example, a “sternal rub”) for inappropriate touching.

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