Published: Dec 25, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Dec 23, 2011 01:38 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The N.C. Court of Appeals denied a former Orange County EMT's motion that he had public-official immunity and could not be sued for the death of a Chapel Hill High School football player in 2008.Court of Appeals Chief Judge John Martin, and Court of Appeals Judges Wanda Bryant and Ann Calabria ruled Tuesday that James Griffin may be held personally liable for any harm caused by negligence in his position as an EMT.Griffin responded to a 911 call in August 2008 from 17-year-old Atlas Fraley, who was experiencing full-body cramps and dehydration after football practice.Griffin spent 22 minutes with him and advised Fraley to drink fluids to treat his dehydration. He determined Fraley's condition was not serious and left him with instructions to call 911 or his parents, who were at work, if his condition worsened, according to court records.
"After a careful evaluation ... Griffin determined that Atlas Fraley did not meet the criteria for emergency transport," according to Griffin's answer to the Fraleys' complaint.
When Fraley's parents, David and Malinda, came home that evening they found their son not breathing on the living room floor. He was pronounced dead when Orange County Emergency Services arrived.
An autopsy suggested Fraley's dehydration and cramping may have led to a fatal heart attack, though the autopsy could provide no definitive explanation for his death.
David and Malinda Fraley filed a wrongful death action against Griffin, Orange County and its emergency medical services department in January 2010.They voluntarily dismissed their claims against Orange County and the department, which have governmental immunity from liability for mistakes made in the course of duty.
Griffin filed a motion in October 2010 arguing that he had public-official immunity as a county worker and could not be sued. In November, Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ruled that Griffin, as an individual, does not have the same immunity. Griffin appealed, arguing that his job requires him to make personal judgments.The Court of Appeals determined that the use of judgment is inherent in every position of employment and that it was not enough to entitle Griffin to immunity as a public official.
Dr. Jane Brice, the Orange County EMS medical director, revoked Griffin's paramedic privileges 10 days after Fraley's death. Griffin resigned days later under threat of termination.
The state Office of Emergency Medical Services decided not to revoke Griffin's license. State EMS officials found Griffin had violated some Orange County protocols in his response to Fraley but had not acted incompetently under state law.