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Can Paramedics Be Criminally Charged if Someone They’re Treating Passes Away?

Two Colorado paramedics were recently found guilty for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. In 2021, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Cooper and Cichuniec pleaded not guilty, though it is surprising that the charges were brought at all as medics are typically protected from liability while treating people in emergencies.

In August 2019, McClain was under arrest by officers responding to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask. McClain was walking home carrying ice tea in a plastic bag. The officers wrestled McClain to the ground and placed him in a hold. Cooper and Cichuniec diagnosed McClain with “excited delirium” at the scene and gave him a power sedative. McClain suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died three days later. McClain weighed 143 pounds, but was estimated by Cooper and Cichuniec to be about 200 pounds. Cooper and Cichuniec gave him 500 mg dose of Ketamine, when he should have been given 325mg.

The three Aurora officers at trial blamed McClain’s death on the paramedics. Two of the officers were found guilty of negligent homicide and third degree assault, while the third officer was acquitted of all charges.

Lawsuits and Prosecutions against Government Employee Should Be Permissible to Ensure Government Accountability

Cooper and Cichuniec are among the few paramedics who have been successfully prosecuted while in the line of duty. Legal actions against paramedics are often dismissed because it is difficult to prove that a paramedic was negligent or the cause of the decedent’s passing. Paramedics are often called when the victim is already injured or already medically declining. Proving that a paramedic was responsible for a death is difficult when the victim was already dying without the paramedic’s assistance.

Nor would it be sufficient to state that a paramedic, or any medical professional, have to save someone’s life or be held liable for their death. Medical professionals are only to act as a reasonably competent professional in the same situation. In other words, a paramedic only has to act as a reasonably competent paramedic. This is a reasonable standard as there are some kinds of illnesses or injuries that can’t be stopped. Sometimes, a person’s time is up and no paramedic or physician in the world can save them. It wouldn’t be reasonable to hold a paramedic responsible to save someone who can’t be saved.

Moreover, it was uncommon for legal action to be brought against government officials who have to make a judgment call to save one life over another. The common justifying example is that if a police officer chooses to respond to calls from Person A instead of Person B, the police officer should not be liable for responding to the former in lieu of the latter.

However, police officers are increasingly being prosecuted and sued for taking a life. Likewise, a paramedic in 2018 was indicted for responding to an emergency call but not rendering medical aid. Nevertheless, the judge dismissed the charges against the paramedic.

It is a legitimate concern if government actors are sued or prosecuted for judgment calls. If people are unhappy with whom government actors are responsive too, the proper recourse is through elections, not the courtroom.

However, it is becoming too common where government immunity for judgment calls is becoming blanket immunity, no matter how malicious or grossly negligent government actors behave. In 2022, entire law enforcement departments stood by while elementary school children were gunned down in Uvalde, Texas. While government actors should be excused if the choice is between saving lives, they should still be responsible if they choose not to act at all even when common sense dictates they should.

Do I Need the Help of a Personal Injury Attorney?

If you have sustained a personal injury through the unlawful act of another, then you should contact a personal injury attorney. A skilled personal injury lawyer near you can review the facts of your case, go over your rights and options, and represent you at hearings and in court.


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