For decades, the “public duty doctrine” has been cited by judges across the country to dismiss any number of cases seeking to hold police, firefighters and paramedics accountable for seemingly egregious violations of their duty, reports the Washington Times. Now the little-known legal precedent — which says emergency workers have no legal obligation to help people in trouble but only a general duty to the public at large — is coming into question from family members of a man who died of a heart attack near a Washington, D.C., fire station after being refused help from trained medical personnel inside.
Medric Cecil Mills Jr., 77, died last month after collapsing at a shopping center across the street from Engine 26 in Northeast D.C. in an incident that drew national headlines. Bystanders screamed for help from firefighters, who ignored the pleas, according to Mills’ son. An attorney said the family is exploring legal options but said the public duty doctrine is a high hurdle. The doctrine prevents the city government from being found negligent for failure to provide services, such as police and emergency response, except in limited circumstances.