Recently Super Storm Sandy hit the east coast of the United States. Where I reside received nothing more than a little rain, but New Jersey and New York where not so fortunate. After the storm Maryland sent a contingent of EMS providers to New Jersey to assist with the aftermath. I was a little concerned when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that they where being sent into an area that was experiencing civil unrest and spotty cell coverage.

November 1 near Cardiff, NJ via mobile

Units will be doing 911 calls in Newark NJ, and possibly search rescue and recovery. We have been advised cell service is hit or miss but sms messaging works well. We will keep you up to date. We have been cautioned that there is some civil unrest in our theater of operation

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Anyone that knows me knows I am a staunch advocate of EMS personnel training themselves in the art of self defense. Day in and day out we may not need the skills but increasingly EMS personnel are called into more and more volatile situations such as civil unrest or violent protest. Hurricane Sandy is fresh in our memories but let’s not forget November 2011 riots that broke out at Penn State, March 2010 the riots after a University of Maryland basketball game and the EMT injured in New York at the Occupy Wall Street Protest. It may just be me but civil unrest seems to be on the rise with EMS providers on the front line as usual,poorly trained and equipped, as usual.

What self defense laws govern our response to a violent attack ? In the eyes of the law what constitutes a violent attack ? When is it appropriate for a public safety worker, namely EMS providers to use self defense techniques ? How will our actions be judged in the eyes of the law and public opinion ? I started researching self defense doctrines, but first I am not a lawyer, I am a paramedic that has extensive training in the martial arts. I am not offering legal advice or direction, consult your legal adviser for that. I am simply exploring the realm of self defense and some of the consequences of using it. I work in an environment that may pose a higher probability for civil unrest then normal, although there is no data to support that statement just my opinion based solely on my 23 years of experience in special events.

I generally tell my students and EMS personnel as a general “rule of thumb” use only enough force to stop the attack so that you may withdraw from the situation. If you use an once more you are opening yourself up to who knows what. In this country “Monday morning quarter backing” is our national past time. We have millisecond to make decisions and react and the people who will judges those actions have hours and days to pass judgment and the advantage of knowing the outcome in advance.

I believe generally  if you hurt someone while defending yourself you may ultimately find yourself in more trouble than the person that attacked you. Remember EMS providers are no civilians, but public safety workers. People wrongfully assume we have the skills and training of a Navy Seal, when the reality is very different. Our training is minimal to none existent in handling violent encounters. Let me state this again I am not a lawyer or an expert concerning the legal side of self defense but I make the statements I make based solely on my experience in the profession. For 20 plus years I’ve watched the watching the consequences EMS personnel have had to face after a violent encounters and I can honestly say they have not always been treated fairly in my opinion.

Since I reside in Maryland I started my research with Maryland Self Defense Doctrine.

Law principles of the doctrine of self-defense:

In the case of Baltimore Transit Co. v. Faulkner, 179 Md. 598, 20 A.2d 485 (1941), which involved a civil lawsuit for assault and battery, the Court of Appeals of Maryland set forth the general common law principles of the doctrine of self-defense:

The law of self-defense justifies an act done in the reasonable belief of immediate danger. If an injury was done by a defendant in justifiable self-defense, he can neither be punished criminally nor held responsible for damages in a civil action. . . . One who seeks to justify an assault on the ground that he acted in self-defense must show that he used no more force than the exigency reasonably demanded. The belief of a defendant in an action for assault that the plaintiff intended to do him bodily harm cannot support a plea of self-defense unless it was such a belief as a person of average prudence would entertain under similar circumstances. The jury should accordingly be instructed that to justify assault and battery in self-defense the circumstances must be such as would have induced a reasonable man of average prudence to make such an assault in order to protect himself. The question whether the belief of the defendant that he was about to be injured was a reasonable one under all the circumstances is a question for the consideration of the jury.

Id., 179 Md. at 600-01, 20 A.2d at 487.

The Court of Appeals said that, even if the plaintiff had struck the defendant’s employees first, the plaintiff would still be entitled to prevail in an action for battery if the defendant’s employees, in repelling the plaintiff’s acts, “used unreasonable and excessive force, meaning such force as prudent men would not have used under all the circumstances of the case.” Id., 179 Md. at 600, 20 A.2d at 487.

Maryland seems to place a person’s culpability on the “reasonable belief of immediate danger.” and “such force as prudent men would not have used”. My question is what is the standard for EMS providers ? We know the legal standard for police officers and soldiers’ use of force is different than for civilians. The reason is based on the fact that these two groups of people have received training to deal with violent encounters. It is assumed that an average civilian has not had the same extensive training hence their reaction would reasonably be expected to differ. Civilians enjoy a lower standard for “ person of average prudence would entertain under similar circumstances” than trained public servants. EMS providers may exist in a legal limbo because generally EMS providers receive no specific training to deal with violent encounters, but we often find ourselves in violent situations with the perception that we have received such training.

What are the standards an EMS provider can expect to be held to ? What if the provider has received self defense training on your own, then what is the standard ? I will explore all these questions and hopefully shed some light on the legal ramifications EMS providers may face if they ever find themselves having to defend themselves and their actions are called into question.

Next week when I release the second blog in this series as well as the first episode of self defense for the EMS provider. To view the upcoming show please become a member today.  Join Today

Self Defense For the EMS Provider




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