SW Legal studies in Business

Sovereign Immunity Blocks Wrongful Death Suit for Improper Medical Procedure by EMT

Appeals court held that sovereign immunity protected the city and a city EMT from suit in a case where improper treatment in a call for help resulted in death.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Wrongful Death; Negligence; EMT; Sovereign Immunity

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Sanford Richardson had trouble breathing. His wife called the St. Louis Fire Department which provided emergency medical services to the public. The emergency medical technician (EMT) who responded to the call placed a tube into his esophagus instead of his trachea, causing him to suffer anoxic brain injury that resulted in his death. His wife sued for wrongful death due to negligent training of personnel and for mistreatment by the EMT who inserted the breathing tube. The trial court dismissed the suit, holding that defendants were entitled to sovereign and official immunity. Plaintiff appealed.


Affirmed. Municipal corporations are entitled to sovereign immunity when engaged in governmental functions, but not when engaged in proprietary functions. The operation of a city-owned emergency medical service was a governmental function and, therefore, the city was entitled to sovereign immunity against plaintiff’s wrongful death and negligence suit. Even though the city charged a fee for the service, the service provided a general public benefit and served the public health and welfare, so was not a proprietary service. Similarly, application of official immunity may be appropriate, on a case-by-case basis, to city-employed EMTs who allegedly acted negligently on the job. Official immunity shields public officials for alleged acts of negligence committed during the course of their official duties. That applies in the case of “discretionary acts” for which a public official exercised reason in determining how or whether an act should be done.

Citation Richardson v. City of St. Louis, ---S.W.3d--- (2009 WL 3050917, Ct. App., Mo., 2009)

Back to Torts Listings

©1997-2010 South-Western Legal Studies in Business, A Division of Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved.