Friday, May 17, 2013

Court of Appeals Holds that The Good Samaritan Act and Fire Rescue Act Do Not Extend to Commercial Ambulance Companies

             In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals clarified that immunities in the Good Samaritan Act and the Fire and Rescue Act do not extend to commercial ambulance companies. The case involved a minor, Bryson Murray, who was taken to Easton Memorial Hospital suffering from congestion and troubled breathing. Because Easton Memorial Hospital did not have the equipment to handle the child, hospital officials decided to transfer him to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) in Baltimore. UMMS arranged for Phi Air Medical to carry out the transport by helicopter.
While in the helicopter, Bryson’s heart rate and oxygen blood level began to drop because his airway allegedly became blocked by the endotracheal tube. The transport team searched for a pediatric mask to deliver oxygen to the child, but could not locate it. The pilot was forced to land the helicopter at the Bay Bridge Airport to locate the mask. By the time the transportation team was able to reintubate Bryson, he had suffered hypoxic brain injury, and as a result, is blind, deaf, and mentally disabled. Bryson, by his mother, Karen Murray, filed a complaint against TransCare alleging medical malpractice. The complaint argued that the company was vicariously liable under the principle of respondeat superior for the acts and omissions of a paramedic transport team member employed by TransCare. TransCare moved for summary judgment. The Circuit Court granted the motion, concluding that TransCare was immune under the Good Samaritan Act and the Fire and Rescue Act. The Murrays appealed and the Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding that neither statute applied to a private, for-profit ambulance company. TransCare petitioned the Court of Appeals for certiorari, which was granted.
The Good Samaritan Act provides immunity to a broad class of rescuers and medical providers for any act or omission in giving assistance or medical care provided without fee or other compensation, unless grossly negligent, (1) at the scene of an emergency, (2) in transit to a medical facility, or (3) through communications with personnel providing emergency assistance. TransCare argued that it had the same immunities under the Act pursuant to CJ 5-603(b)(3) as a “volunteer fire department or ambulance and rescue squad whose members have immunity.” The Court addressed whether the language of CJ 5-603(b)(3) intended “volunteer” to modify just “fire department” or both “fire department” and “ambulance and rescue squad.” The Court concluded, under the plain text of the statute, the legislative history, and the applicable case law, that “volunteer” did modify “ambulance and rescue squad.” Therefore, TransCare, a private commercial ambulance company, was not intended to be provided immunity under the Act. The Court also dismissed TransCare’s argument that if its negligent employee was immune under the Act, that TransCare could not be liable.
The Fire and Rescue Act provides broad immunity from civil liability to members of fire and rescue companies and to the companies themselves for any act or omission performed in the course of their duties, unless the act or omission is willful or grossly negligent. The Court held that the Fire and Rescue Act was only intended to protect fire and rescue departments, but unlike the Good Samaritan Act was not limited to “volunteers.” The court appreciated that a commercial ambulance company may qualify as a “rescue company” in particular circumstances. The court ruled, however, that TransCare had not demonstrated that it functioned as a “rescue company” that has the broad immunity from liability provided by the Fire and Rescue Act.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Special Appeals decision that TransCare was not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of either statutory immunity.

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