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Illinois Clearly Defines When Motor Vehicle Negligence is Afforded Immunity Under the EMS Act

Author: Nathan Berkeley

Guest Editor: David Kahn

September 1, 2020 8:30am

Illinois is one of 24 states with providing immunity to authorized paramedics and emergency medical responders. Section 3.150(a) of the Illinois Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act (the “EMS Act”) grants civil liability immunity for emergency or non-emergency medical services provided during department training, conducting their duties, or in an emergency, excluding willful and wanton misconduct. The public policy reasons for providing immunity to emergency medical personnel are clear – to encourage paramedics to swiftly provide medical assistance without fear of liability. But what happens when a plaintiff seeks to impose liability for acts not related, or only tangentially related, to the medical care provided by paramedics? In a 4 – 3 split decision, the Supreme Court of Illinois recently addressed this issue in Hernandez v. Lifeline Ambulance, LLC (2020) 2020 WL 3273486, by determining when emergency medical responders can be held liable for motor vehicle negligence.

Background

While driving in downtown Chicago, motorist/Plaintiff Roberto Hernandez was injured after his vehicle was struck by a private ambulance owned by Lifeline Ambulance after it ran a red light. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged at the time of the accident, the ambulance’s lights and sirens were not engaged and it was undisputed the ambulance was not providing medical assistance or transporting a patient at the time of the accident. Rather, the ambulance was en route to pick up a patient many miles away for non-emergency transport following dialysis. Based on these facts the Defendants sought immunity under Illinois’ EMS Act arguing they were performing “non-emergency medical services” by driving to pick up and transport a patient.

Following the filing of a motion to dismiss, the circuit court granted defendants’ motion as to two counts derived from simple negligence leaving only one cause of action for willful and wanton misconduct. The circuit court’s ruling was appealed and reversed as the appellate court sided with Plaintiff noting the EMS Act defines “non-emergency medical services” as medical services rendered to patients ‘during transportation of such patient to health care facilities.’ The Supreme Court of Illinois reviewed the appellate court decision to determine whether Section 3.150(a) of the EMS Act immunizes defendants from liability with respect to a negligence claim resulting from a traffic accident that occurred on the way to pick up a patient for a nonemergency transport.

Illinois Supreme Court Analysis

In affirming the appellate court’s decision to deny immunity, the Supreme Court of Illinois sought to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent of the EMS Act – specifically as to the critical term “non-emergency medical services.” It noted the absence of any explicit statutory reference of immunity for paramedics travelling to provide medical services. Instead, it pointed to the plain language of the statute which defined “non-emergency medical services” as “medical care, clinical observation, [and] medical monitoring rendered to patients…”.

The Court then sought to distinguish the matter from two Illinois Supreme Court cases cited by the defense. In rejecting the defense’s arguments, the Court held that the act of driving to a pick-up location for the non-emergency transport of a patient was not “preparatory conduct integral to providing medical care”, and thus not a covered act entitling defendants to immunity under the EMS Act.

Significance

The impact of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision is noteworthy as it now appears to clearly define the time periods under which paramedics are afforded immunity under the EMS Act for motor vehicle negligence. Coupled with the Court’s prior ruling in Wilkins v. Williams, 991 N.E.2d 308 (Ill. 2013) [holding there is no distinction between ambulances operating under lights and siren and those not operating under lights and siren], immunity for motor vehicle negligence appears to be afforded only when an ambulance is in the act of transporting a patient for any purpose, irrespective of whether its lights and sirens are engaged.

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