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Pilot Not Liable for Coworker Injuries Following Medical Helicopter Crash

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The Arkansas Supreme Court held up the declaration of a lower court that a medical helicopter pilot is immune from liability for injuries related to an 8-year old accident — even if the accident was allegedly caused by pilot negligence.

The air ambulance was heading from a facility in Claremore, Oklahoma to the scene of an automobile accident in Benton County, Arkansas. After picking up the accident victim, the helicopter headed toward the hospital, but crashed shortly after takeoff.

The two members of the medical crew onboard suffered physical injuries, which they alleged were caused by negligent operation of the helicopter.

Thus, following the accident, these other members of the flight crew (a flight nurse and an EMT) brought a negligence suit against the pilot for the injuries that resulted from the crash.

The commercial pilot who had been flying the medevac at the time of the accident filed an answer as well as a motion to dismiss — suggesting, in other words, that the court “throw out” the case.

It’s definitely an interesting legal situation, that may bring up some questions in the mind of a member of an air ambulance team. If a pilot — for the sake of argument — operates the air ambulance in a negligent way that leads to a crash resulting in injury or death, who exactly (if anyone) is liable?

Would anyone be at fault if a member of your team, through negligence in the performance of their job, brought about unsafe conditions? It is always hoped, of course, that we won’t ever need to worry about such things.

Still, it’s certainly an intriguing question for anyone employed by an air ambulance service.

The answer may not be easy to figure out, as outcomes can depend on a multitude of factors, not the least of which are the respective laws of the state or country the air ambulance service is based in or operating within at the time of the accident.

In this instance, a judge had entered an order concluding that at the time of the accident, the pilot was “performing his employer’s duty to provide a safe work place” (in this case a helicopter in flight) for the rest of the air ambulance crew as well as providing safe EMS air transportation for patients. He was therefore, according to the administrative law judge and the Supreme Court of Arkansas, entitled to immunity.

In the slip opinion authored by the Supreme Court of Arkansas, it was noted that immunity has consistently been afforded to “co-employees that are acting as an arm of the employer.”

Comments? Leave them in the space below.

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Discussion
  1. Leah

    3 / 2 / 2013 5:05 pm

    Makes you think! Would the company be liable then for the injuries of their flight crew since they were all on the clock at the time of the crash and the pilot was performing his job at the time of the accident? If not then who will compensate the EMT and flight nurse who were performing their jobs and sustained injuries as a result?

    Reply

  2. Barrett's AnatomyBarrett's Anatomy

    3 / 3 / 2013 10:20 am

    I don’t know exactly how it works in the states, but shouldn’t members of a flight team be entitled to some sort of worker’s compensation for their injuries after a crash since they were, undeniably, performing their function as an air ambulance crew when the crash occurred? Or are there special conditions in the US that allow the government to not pay workers in situations since air ambulance crewman is, after all, a hazardous job? A great article for discussion… definitely sharing this one.

    Reply

  3. Martina Matijević-Fuei

    3 / 3 / 2013 10:43 pm

    It is sad when flight medics do not get compensation for your injuries. It mostly does not matter whether a pilot was involved in cause of the ambulance helicopter to crash or not. These accidents will always happen even so and I hope that someone will come to aid these caregivers who have survived an incredible event on the mission of saving life.

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  4. 3 / 4 / 2013 4:08 pm

    Not knowing any more facts than are in the PDF, my opinion the court made the right decision. If there was clear indication that the pilot had flown very negligent that would be different. I would be interested in knowing what the flight nurse & EMT meant by negligent operation.

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    • Sarah

      3 / 6 / 2013 1:50 am

      Agreed. I would be interested to know as well! We’ve all unfortunately probably experienced what we would call ‘negligent’ on the job, but the definition of that is rather foggy. The only people who can tell us are the crew who were aboard.

      Reply