Kent v Griffiths (No 3)
Court of Appeal
Citations:  QB 36;  2 WLR 1158;  2 All ER 474;  PIQR P57;  Lloyd’s Rep Med 109; (2000) 97(7) LSG 41.
The claimant was a pregnant woman who suffered a severe asthma attack. Her doctor attended her and called 999, requesting an ambulance and informing the operator of the claimant’s condition. The operator told the doctor that an ambulance would arrive in around eight minutes. The ambulance took thirty-four minutes to arrive, and the paramedics falsified their arrival time to hide this. The paramedics never gave a reason for the delay.
By the time the claimant arrived at the hospital, she had suffered respiratory arrest. This resulted in brain damage and a miscarriage. These injuries would have been avoided if the ambulance had arrived promptly. The claimant’s doctor testified that if he had known the ambulance would have taken that long to arrive, he would have had the claimant’s husband drive her to the hospital. The claimant sued the ambulance service in the tort of negligence.
- Do the ambulance services owe people a duty of care in the tort of negligence?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the claimant. The ambulance service owed the claimant a duty of care after accepting the 999 call for assistance. They breached this duty by failing to arrive promptly without good reason.
This Case is Authority For…
Ambulance services owe patients a duty of care in negligence once they accept calls for assistance.
The Court of Appeal distinguished ambulance services from the police and fire services, who generally do not owe the public a duty of care in the exercise of their powers. Ambulance services were said to be more akin to doctors caring for patients. Their sole concern is the interests of the individual patient and there are not normally any conflicting priorities between the patient’s interests and the public at large.
However, the Court of Appeal noted that a different conclusion might be reached if what was being criticised was the service’s allocation of resources. For example, if the 999 operator had been unable to provide an ambulance because there were not enough ambulances, this would fall outside of the scope of the duty of care established by this case.
The Court also concluded that ambulance services are not ‘volunteers’ (who are usually only under a duty to avoid making matters worse).