Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

There was a great column on early this year by columnist David Givot. I actually agree with every single thing he said in the article, like I usually do. I did not however, agree with the Title; Why EMS Providers Shouldn’t Fear the Courtroom. 

My opinion is you should read his 5th tip repeatedly. My second is to Be Afraid; Be Very Afraid about testifying in court. I have had only one court case in my EMS career. It involved the son of a close friend and fellow Paramedic.

When we arrived on scene the young child had second and third degree burns covering his face, neck, and upper torso. I did not recognize the house, patient, or the older female on scene who lived there, but she recognized me.

She asked me if I wasn’t a friend of her son, and upon exclamation of his name I almost fell-out. I immediately asked, “This boy is X (name withheld)?”

I had not recognized the child I that I had visited regularly since he was a baby, because his face was pretty much burnt off. I had never visited his grandmother’s home, so I was initially surprised at personally knowing my patient.

One would think this particular call would be riveted into my memory, every detail crystal clear. But in court, by the time opposing counsel got done with me I looked like I could not be trusted to remember to tie shoes or wipe afterwards.

When we are on an EMS call and a lawyer shows up, we can handle them just fine. When we go into their world, don’t fantasize you will be so lucky. This is their playground, and about all you will have to make or break your case better already be in the run report. This is the single best case for a good narrative in the chart.

With these new electronic charts (EPCR’s) run reports, we all get kind of lazy about narrative charting. Trust me, as one who has been there, no good narrative on the chart equals no real defense against defamation. I don’t care how smooth you think you are, if it isn’t in the chart it did not happen.

In this case the plaintiff was suing the manufacturer of a playsuit that burned up on his body like fireworks. Even though my testimony totally tanked, they won the case.

It happened after my abysmal testimony when the lawyer for the plaintiff hung two child playsuits from coat hangers in the courtroom. One was identical to the suit the child had worn; the other was crafted from the Kansas City Star Newspaper. In front of a jury, this kids playsuit burned faster and at a hotter temperature than the one made from a newspaper.

That was when they settled. I sure did not help very much, and I learned just about how afraid a Medic should be in court. Very.


About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for, on and I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
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