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J Emerg Manag. 2013 Nov-Dec;11(6):405-10. doi: 10.5055/jem.2013.0153.

First responder and physician liability during an emergency.

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  • 1Research Assistant, Center for Health and Homeland Security, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland; JD Candidate, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Baltimore, Maryland.


First responders, especially emergency medical technicians and paramedics, along with physicians, will be expected to render care during a mass casualty event. It is highly likely that these medical first responders and physicians will be rendering care in suboptimal conditions due to the mass casualty event. Furthermore, these individuals are expected to shift their focus from individually based care to community- or population-based care when assisting disaster response. As a result, patients may feel they have not received adequate care and may seek to hold the medical first responder or physician liable, even if they did everything they could given the emergency circumstances. Therefore, it is important to protect medical first responders and physicians rendering care during a mass casualty event so that their efforts are not unnecessarily impeded by concerns about civil liability. In this article, the author looks at the standard of care for medical first responders and physicians and describes the current framework of laws limiting liability for these persons during an emergency. The author concludes that the standard of care and current laws fail to offer adequate liability protection for medical first responders and physicians, especially those in the private sector, and recommends that states adopt clear laws offering liability protection for all medical first responders and physicians who render assistance during a mass casualty event.

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