By Carolyn Norton
The Herald-Sun (Durham, North Carolina)
Copyright 2007 The Herald-Sun
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Dozens of times in the past four months it has happened. A patient speeding to the hospital in a county ambulance is so sick or injured he or she needs both paramedics staffing the vehicle to assist. Then, a Durham city firefighter, acting as a medical first responder, takes the wheel. The county commissioners Monday morning dealt with the issue of who pays the bill if that driver — who’s works for the city, not the county — crashes.
The county’s insurance covers its employees, and, in many jurisdictions, the city insurance would cover city employees. However, the City of Durham has waived its governmental immunity, and is liable for its employees, said S.C. Kitchen, the county attorney.
That liability prompted a question of who is liable for city employees driving county vehicles. That practice was common until 2001, when a city worker hit a car while driving a county ambulance. Then the county banned the practice until last November, when city firefighters began driving county ambulances again, after county and city officials learned that ambulances sometimes had to pull over to allow two paramedics to work on a patient.
“This is essential to providing good service to our citizens,” said Ellen Reckhow, chairwoman of the county commissioners. “We have a situation where 20 to 25 people a month are helped by … not having to have the ambulance stop on the side of the road to help the patient.” Kitchen said even though the city doesn’t have insurance, it would be liable. Under state law, the county cannot insure city employees, he said.