Imagine if you were a patient or the family member of a patient who needed to get to the hospital urgently. The ambulance arrived, but
- on the way to the hospital it realises that it needs to refuel and stops at a petrol station
- as it’s about to leave the petrol station, it meets with an accident with a lorry
- the lorry driver and ambulance driver end up arguing, and this goes on for an hour
- they proceed to the police station to make a report!
Think this sounds ludicrous? This actually happened in Kuching at the beginning of the month and unfortunately, the patient who was made to wait for hours while these events unfolded passed away before he got to the hospital.
This sparked outrage and many were asking what sort of action could be taken against the ambulance service provider. But have you wondered what the standard response time is for an ambulance to arrive? The international standard response time is 10-15 minutes and in Malaysia it can go up to 45-60 minutes. This can be partly attributed to the fact that there are only 0.28 ambulances for every 10,000 people, but of course, that cannot be a valid excuse, especially when it’s a matter of life and death. So, can you take any action if an ambulance takes forever to get to you? Here’s what we found out.
You can sue the ambulance company
If someone has wronged us and caused us a great loss as a result, we would most likely want to take them to court, or in other words, sue them. An ambulance service has a legal responsibility towards you to get to you quickly and to get you to a hospital on time. If they fail to fulfill that responsibility and you have suffered great harm as a result, you can sue them in court. If your claim succeeds, the court will hold the ambulance service to be negligent and you will be given compensation in the form of money.
Ambulance service providers can be divided into 3: government hospital ambulances, private ambulances and ambulances from charities or non- profit organizations. This is important to know, because you may not be able to sue all of them.
If the ambulance comes from a government hospital, you will be unable to sue the hospital itself. The hospital is not a legal body by itself. Because all government hospitals are under the government, you would actually be bringing a claim against the government of Malaysia. However, the Ministry of Health of Malaysia will be the one that looks into your case to rule out any foul play.
On the other hand, if it was an ambulance from a private service provider, you can sue the service provider itself because unlike a government hospital, a private service provider is a legal body.
So government and private ambulance providers can be sued… but what about ambulances from charities or non- profit organizations?
Some ambulances cannot be sued
There are two instances where you can’t sue an ambulance service:
Some ambulances are sent by charitable organisations for free. If the ambulance that sends you help does so out of goodwill or it’s from a charitable organization, you will not be able to take any legal action against them as they are just helping you and they don’t owe you the same duty as a regular ambulance would.
Another reason you can’t hold them is responsible is because charitable organizations do not have as many ambulances as hospitals or private ambulance services. Due to this, they may not be in many locations and it would be impossible for them to reach you within minutes.
When you dial 999, you will almost always be redirected to a government or private ambulance. To get the services of a non- profit ambulance, you would have to call them directly.
Some free ambulance services that are run by charities are:
So yes, an ambulance’s job is to get to you as soon as they can… but these are a few instances where they will very likely not be held responsible if a claim was brought to court.
- It’s not a life and death issue – while ambulances are expected to get to you in minutes, the priority will be for cases where the patient is in excruciating pain, their vitals signs are poor or when their condition is really serious.
- Nothing else was done to make the situation better – if there was a chance for you to call for more help or for a doctor to get to you first, you might not have a very strong case.
- If the ambulance service provider can prove that they were late due to circumstances beyond their control. Some examples would be: the address or information given or there was a bad traffic jam
- The ambulance arriving late didn’t cause you any harm – if the ambulance arrived really late but you weren’t in a serious condition, you will not have a case against the ambulance service provider. You can take action against them only if you suffered serious harm as a result of them arriving late. In essence, there has to be a strong link between the delay by the ambulance and the harm that was suffered by you. This is known as causation. And if no causation can be proven, unfortunately, you will not be able to hold the ambulance service responsible.
There’s nothing to stop you from still taking your case to court, but it’s very likely that you will not have a strong case, or the judge will reject (strike out) your claim.
In some cases, arriving late can also be a crime
While suing is what most people might want to do, there are some instances where an ambulance arriving late can also be considered a crime. The case in Kuching that we mentioned at the beginning of this article is a good example. The ambulance driver has been charged under Section 43 of the Road Transportation Act 1987, which is careless and inconsiderate driving.