Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Court of Special Appeals Decides Whether the Good Samaritan Act Applies to Commercial Ambulance Company

In the matter of TransCare Maryland, Inc. v. Bryson Murray, et. al., one of the issues that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided was whether the Good Samaritan Act applied to a commercial ambulance company, relieving the company of liability for the alleged negligence of an employee during the scope of his employment. 

Sovereign immunity is available to public agencies and employees to protect them from liability should something go awry within the scope of their duties.  In Maryland, the Good Samaritan Act grants immunity to specified individuals and entities from liability for negligence that occurs in connection with medical care rendered without fee at the scene of an emergency or while in transit to a medical facility.  In TransCare, minor Bryson Murray was seen at Easton Memorial Hospital for congestion and breathing difficulty. Easton Memorial intubated Murray and sought to have him transferred to the University of Maryland Medical System (“UMMS”) pediatric intensive care unit.  PHI Air Medical was responsible for transporting Murray via helicopter from Easton Memorial to UMMS.   The flight team included an UMMS intensive care unit nurse, a PHI flight paramedic, a PHI flight nurse and Chris Barbour, a paramedic employed by Trans Care. 

During the helicopter ride, Murray’s blood oxygen level and heart rate began to drop allegedly due to the endotracheal tube becoming dislodged and blocking his airway.  The helicopter was landed at an airport so that necessary apparatus from the helicopter could be retrieved to reintubate him.  Once Murray was reintubated, the flight to UMMS was completed.

Murray’s mother, Karen Murray, filed suit against TransCare under the theory of respondeat superior alleging that Barbour “failed to provide the requisite standard of care” because Bryson Murray suffered hypoxic brain injury.  She further alleged that the minor became blind, deaf and mentally disabled as a result of Barbour’s acts and omissions during the transport.    Trans Care filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Good Samaritan Act and Fire and Rescue Act provided it immunity.  The Circuit Court initially denied the motion, but then granted summary judgment under TransCare’s motion for reconsideration.  The Court held that TransCare was immune under the Fire and Rescue Act and Good Samaritan Act. 

Karen Murray appealed.  The Court of Special Appeals reversed the summary judgment, finding that the neither of the statutes applied to a “private, for-profit ambulance company.” TransCare petitioned the Maryland Court of Appeals and certiorari was granted. 

The Court of Appeals noted that TransCare is a commercial ambulance company. When deciding this case, the Court looked to the legislative history of the Good Samaritan Act to determine whether commercial ambulance companies were protected by the Act.  The Act initially applied to physicians who provided free medical assistance at the scene of an accident.  The statute was amended to include volunteer emergency personnel.  The Court noted that it was clear that the statute did not apply to members or employees of for-profit organizations.  The Act was amended in 1976 to include members of any State, county, municipal or volunteer fire department, ambulance and rescue squad.  There was no indication in the statutory history that the protection extended to commercial ambulance companies. 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the holding of the Court of Special Appeals, holding that TransCare did not have immunity under the Good Samaritan Act. The Court held that although TransCare’s employee may be immune under the Act, TransCare may still be held liable under the theory that a principal (employer) must establish an independent basis in order to receive the benefit of immunity shield that the agent (employee) enjoys.

Article Contributed by Danielle Williamson 

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