Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
You might not have noticed this story last week, but a Detroit Fire Department (DFD) Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was fired for failing to respond to a call of a baby not breathing. The EMT was only a few blocks away when the call came in but she parked her rig a block away and waited for 10 minutes until a transport unit arrived. The baby’s parents desperately tried to help their child and administered CPR as best they could. The baby died at the hospital the next morning but we’ll never know if 10 minutes of properly administered care might have been the difference in the baby surviving or not. Social Media posts and comments in the online newspaper stories all expressed clearly justifiable outrage and anger at this EMT. A number of posters also mentioned a law suit and legal trouble for the EMT and DFD. However, it’s unlikely the EMT will face any consequences beyond the loss of a job she did not appear too interested in doing.
As I pointed out to FtM readers last week six of the seven members of the Michigan Supreme Court do not feel that governmental officials should be held to account even when their actions can be argued to have led to the death of an individual they were duty-bound to assist. The case last week was about a young man that drowned while a state employed lifeguard was derelict in his duties. That decision was based on a very troubling legal precedent established by some of the Michigan Supreme Court’s right-wing activist judges: Robinson v Detroit, 462 Mich 439,462; 613 NW2d 307 (2000). The Robinson decision holds that a governmental official’s governmental immunity can only be waived when their actions are “both (1) grossly negligent and (2) ‘the proximate cause’ of an injury, which this Court interpreted to mean the ‘most immediate, efficient, and direct cause’”
If you’re a non-lawyer like me, you might say well that makes sense. However, on closer inspection and research it becomes apparent that this precedent does not make much sense. The first problem arises when it becomes clear that the Robinson Court and the current Court maintain that this means there can only be one cause of an accident that results in harm to an individual (how often is there just one cause of anything? Much less an accident). And for the governmental official to be liable it must be their grossly negligent action that was this proximate cause. Using the EMT case as an example, the Robinson precedent would mean that whatever caused the baby to stop breathing was the proximate cause of their death – even though one could convincingly argue that had the EMT done their duty and the baby received immediate proper care she might have survived. If the EMT had been a nurse or doctor in a hospital that refused to provide care they would be subject to liability from their negligence. However, because this EMT worked for the Detroit Fire Department they will likely not face any civil legal consequences. That does not strike me as being just or fair. Moreover, even a rudimentary search of the history and tradition of the Common Law shows that the Robinson precedent flies in the face of long-held legal practice and tradition. The Justices that crafted Robinson created their decision out of an overly restrictive reading of the governmental immunity statute (basically defining “the” to mean “only” - this from the same people that blew their faux-outrage gasket when President Clinton asked to define “is” in a deposition) in what can only be described as judicial activism.
I think most Michiganders want their governmental officials to be held accountable when their actions (or failures to act) lead to individuals being harmed. The Robinson precedent only allows for this in the rarest of instances and this narrow view of governmental official liability means that the vast majority of victims of governmental negligence will never receive compensation for their injury/loss. This is not fair and it does not reflect our values (or long standing legal practice and tradition). We must demand accountability from the Court on this matter and elect Justices that will correct the error of the Robinson precedent.