Lamb Island – population 450 – in southern Moreton Bay is officially a “town” within the Redland City.
In emergencies, an ambulance boat is used to collect a paramedic from Russell Island to the South to open up a shed adjacent to the loading dock where an ambulance vehicle is warehoused until needed.
In heavy rain and blustery conditions in January 2012, just such an emergency brought the visiting paramedic to the home of Moyra Roane-Spray, 35 minutes after callout.
Suspecting a stroke, the paramedic decided to convey 66-yr-old Moyra to the dock for boat transfer to Redlands Hospital.
Moyra was well enough managed to walk down her front stairs with the assistance of her husband and son who held an umbrella over her until arriving at the rear door of the vehicle when she was placed on a stretcher.
On arrival at the dock as the QAS officer began pulling the stretcher through the rear doors of the vehicle. Just as he did, a wind gust blew the lightweight silver blanket – that had been placed over the patient to protect her from the rain – into his face.
He kept pulling but instead of the legs of the stretcher automatically unfolding as the head end emerged, it crashed to the ground.
Despite Moyra “screaming out for him to stop” the paramedic kept pulling, she later alleged. The officer then rushed back to lift up the stretcher and locking the inboard legs into place.
Although there were no eyewitnesses, Moyra’s neighbour was at the landing waiting for a ferry. Seeing the ambulance, she walked out the shed and held her umbrella over the patient before realising who it was.
The neighbour, Ms Taylor, said Moyra “kept repeating that she had just fallen and hit her head”
She also recalled the paramedic having said – on seeing Moyra becoming agitated when the stretcher was about to be transferred from the jetty to the boat – “it’s okay, it is fixed, it won’t happen again”.
An uneventful crossing of 15 – 20 minutes preceded a mainland ambulance crew taking control of the transfer.
They made a note that the patient was complaining about headache which they assumed to be related to the suspected stroke.
The Redland’s Hospital doctor who examined her recorded “head/neck trauma while being transported from the Island. While the patient was coming out of the ambulance she was on a stretcher. The front stretcher legs did not engage and she went down. No discomfort initially, but is complaining of cervical spine tenderness.”
The pain worsened to include the lumbar area and “straight leg raising was restricted”.
The patient later sought compensation for the serious back injury sustained.
The QAS acknowledged that the legs did not deploy but denied the resulting medical condition was a result of its officer’s actions.
It claimed the head of the stretcher had only dropped onto the ambulance step.
His Honour Judge John McGill, however, considered that account unreliable. Pulling the stretcher out in the way that he had done constituted negligence on the part of the officer for which the ambulance service was responsible, he ruled.
Despite this, the QAS claimed Civil Liability immunity pursuant to CLA section 27 in that it was an act performed by an entity that “provides services of public safety in the course of rendering first aid or other assistance to a person in distress” because the act was done “in good faith and without reckless” conduct.
The defence was ruled inapplicable as – despite the QAS is a prescribed entity for the purpose of section 27 – paramedics are not its employees but rather are State personnel.
Injuries diagnosed included the serious aggravation of pre-existing degenerative spinal conditions that dramatically reduced her mobility and independence.
Total damages of $558k included $488k for past and future care – showering, dressing cooking, housekeeping, laundry and gardening totalling 19 hrs/week – for Moyra’s remaining 20 years of life expectancy.