Wilkins v. Defendant Ambulance Driver and Ambulance Service

  • 2013 IL 114310 (Supreme Court, June 20, 2013)06/20/2013
    Client: Defendant Ambulance Driver and Ambulance Service
    Outcome: Supreme Court reinstated order granting summary judgment to the defendants after reversal by the appellate court.

Synopsis:

A motorist collided with an ambulance transporting a patient on a non-emergency basis from a hospital to a nursing home. Sustaining severe head trauma in the collision, the motorist sued the ambulance driver and her employer, a private ambulance service, in a negligence action.

The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants on the basis of the qualified immunity provision of the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act, 210 ILCS 5/3.150(a). The statute protects EMS providers from civil liability as a result of acts or omissions in providing both non-emergency and emergency medical services – unless the conduct is willful and wanton.

The appellate court held that the immunity does not extend to negligence claims brought by a non-patient based on the ordinary operation of a motor vehicle and found a conflict with a provision of the Vehicle Code; accordingly, the appellate court reversed the judgment for the defendants. The Illinois Supreme Court had not previously addressed the application of the immunity provision of the EMS Act in the instance of a non-patient plaintiff and accepted the defendants’ request for review of the appellate court’s decision.

The supreme court reversed the appellate court’s judgment. First, the supreme court held that the appellate court erred in concluding that the EMS Act was unclear concerning its application to negligence claims brought by a party who was not being served as a patient. The supreme court held that the EMS Act’s immunity provision has broad application and is not limited by the types of plaintiffs to which the immunity applies.

The court deemed “nonsensical” the notion that a non-patient may recover for negligence against operators of ambulances in the course of providing non-emergency medical services, while a patient’s recovery is limited to willful and wanton misconduct.

The supreme court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Vehicle Code should be interpreted to prevent the EMS Act from providing qualified immunity to ambulance drivers. The court concluded that provisions in the Vehicle Code concerning the duties of ambulance drivers did not abrogate the immunity provision of the EMS Act.

The defendants prevailed on all issues in the supreme court, which reinstated the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendants.