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Whether you are testifying in a deposition or a trial, there should be certain actions that you should take in preparation and during the testimony itself. If you are contacted by attorneys or insurance company officials not representing you or your department, don’t speak to them. Generally, attorneys or insurance companies not representing you or your department will not contact you, but there have been reported cases of such incidents occurring.
Follow the advice of your attorney, who knows the law and how the law will affect your case. In many states, a paramedic or EMT is liable only if gross negligence, not just negligence, is proven. Additionally, there must be “proximate causation.” Proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held that it caused the injury or death. Two elements are needed to determine proximate cause: the activity must produce a foreseeable risk and the injury must be caused directly by the defendant’s negligence.
When testifying in a deposition or trial, always wear a business suit or your uniform to demonstrate your professionalism. Your suit or uniform should be clean and neatly pressed. Prepare yourself by reviewing all pertinent documentation, including your patient care report, any supplemental reports written by you or others on the scene, and any other documents such as computer-aided dispatching records, quality improvement reviews, standard operating procedures, medical protocols or medical control documents. It is acceptable to take all these documents with you to the deposition or trial to review them during your testimony, if necessary.
Speak with confidence and in a voice that is clearly audible. Listen to the question you are being asked and wait until the attorney is finished asking it. Do not try to anticipate the question or interrupt the attorney with your answer. Only answer the question and do not add information that was not asked. You may look directly at the attorney when answering the question, but you may also look at the jury to emphasize your point. Remember, you are trying to convince the jury, not the attorney. If you do not understand a question, ask the attorney to repeat it or say that you do not understand the question. Always show respect and professionalism to the attorney who is representing the other side, even if that person is aggravating you. Finally, never lie – you swore to tell the truth and there are penalties for lying under oath.
Being sued is not a pleasant experience. But by following proper national standards of care or your medical protocols, and with proper documentation, can you lessen your chances of being sued – and they will help you be prepared for your testimony if litigation does happen.
Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the chief of Special Operations for Jefferson County, MO. He retired in 2001 as the chief paramedic for the St. Louis Fire Department after serving the City of St. Louis for 25 years. He is also vice chairman of the EMS Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally, and is on the faculty of three colleges. Ludwig has a master’s degree in management and business and a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and is a licensed paramedic. He also operates The Ludwig Group, a professional consulting firm. He can be reached at 636-789-5660 or via www.garyludwig.com.