Appellate Court Upholds Ruling In Favor of FDNY in Suit By Patient Who Jumped From EMS Unit

The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against FDNY by a man who was injured when he jumped from a moving EMS unit. Yaugeni Kralkin, 54, filed suit in 2017 claiming that EMS personnel did not do enough to restrain him June, 2016 when he was being transported to the hospital.

Kralkin, a long-haul trucker, had family problems and had been drinking heavily when EMS personnel found him “sitting on the ground, uninjured, with unsteady gait. They needed police assistance to get Kralkin into the back of the ambulance because he was uncooperative.” Once secured in the EMS unit and while it was enroute to the hospital, he unbuckled himself from his restraints and jumped from the moving ambulance.

The Richmond County Supreme Court granted FDNY’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint based on governmental immunity. Kralkin appealed to the Appellate Division.

In explaining it’s decision to affirm the trial court’s ruling, the Appellate Division gave an overview of governmental immunity law in the State of New York:

  • Under the doctrine of governmental function immunity, government action, if discretionary, may not be a basis for liability, while 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 acceptable results, whereas a ministerial act envisions 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 in this case, 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 are 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 plaintiff should be brought to the hospital as he could be a danger to himself or others.
  • Because the actions of the EMTs were discretionary, this Court need not address the issue of whether a special duty was owed to the plaintiff.
  • Accordingly, the Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the defendants’ motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging negligence.
  • Furthermore, the Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the defendants’ motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging negligent hiring, retention, supervision, or training, as the defendants conceded that the EMTs were acting within the scope of their employment when the incident occurred.

Here is a copy of the decision:

I would point out, the application of governmental immunity varies greatly from state to state. Many jurisdictions would consider the unit-level administration of emergency medical services such as was the case here, to be a ministerial or functionary act (not discretionary) and as such ineligible for governmental immunity in the manner outlined above. However, these jurisdictions would none-the-less find the fire department not to be liable under either the public duty doctrine (ie. no special duty owed to Kralkin), or under statutory immunity protection commonly afforded to EMS providers. In any event the outcome would be the same.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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