Malpractice Consult

Article excerpt

Your liability when you use new technology in an emergency

Q: Let's say I'm a passenger on a commercial airliner, and I provide emergency treatment with an automatic external def brillator that's on board. Now suppose the plane is flying over South Dakota Since I'm licensed only in New York, would I be practicing medicine without a license? Would I be subject to any quirks in South Dakota law? What if I'm sued for malpractice? Would I be covered under my malpractice policy? Would Good Samaritan laws apply? Now let's say I never used an AED, and I'm not familiar with emergency cardiac situations. Am I better off declining to help? What's the impact of new laws regarding the use of AEDs?

A: Sounds like you may never fly again! First, actions on airliners are 'generally governed by federal law. Since there is no federal licensing of physicians, a doctor couldn't be charged with practicing without a license for care rendered outside the territorial limits of his state, so long as he does have a valid medical license.

Second, most malpractice insurance policies cover incidents occurring within the United States, and that includes events on board an aircraft. (Policies may be amended to cover events outside the US, as well.) Actions rendered during an emergency are part of the coverage.

Third, federal regulations governing flights contain a Good Samaritan provision, which declares that a physician should not be held liable for mere negligence in an emergency, but only for gross negligence. Unfortunately, there's nothing to prevent the patient from suing you, but it's likely the case would be dismissed as a matter of law long before a trial. Liability carriers will provide a defense.

Finally, we're getting closer to the goal of encouraging assistance in medical emergencies while providing protection to Good Samaritans. Currently, 13 states have laws facilitating the widespread availability and use of life-saving technologies such as AEDs.

The laws set forth a framework to ensure that AED users receive appropriate training, and that the devices are maintained and operated within guidelines. …