by Karl R. Ottosen and Amanda McDonough (Fall 2019)

Despite statutory limits benefitting first responders, an ambulance driver en route to pick up a patient for non-emergency transport may be held liable for negligence.

In Hernandez v. Lifeline Ambulance, LLC, 2019 IL App (1st) 180696, Plaintiff was hit by a vacant ambulance that was on its way to pick up a patient for non-emergency transport. Plaintiff alleged he sustained injuries from the crash and filed a negligence suit.

Defendants asserted an immunity defense under the EMS Act. The EMS Act provides immunity to authorized individuals from negligence when rendering “non-emergency medical services.” 210 ILCS 50/3.150(a) (West 2016). The defendants interpreted the immunity provision to apply to the driver because the crash occurred while en route to a non-emergency transport. The trial court accepted the defendants’ immunity argument and dismissed the claims. Plaintiff appealed the ruling. The Appellate Court of Illinois reversed and found that the immunity provision was not applicable in this case.

In this case, the court had to determine the scope of the EMS Act immunity provision. Specifically, whether the immunity applies to an ambulance driver en route to pick up a patient for non-emergency transport.

The EMS Act immunizes authorized individuals from negligence when rendering “non-emergency medical services.” 210 ILCS 50/3.150(a). The statute defines “non-emergency medical services” as services provided to patients “during the transportation of such patient to health care facilities.” 210 ILCS 50/3.10(g).

The court looked to the Illinois Supreme Court decision in Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310, to evaluate the issue. In Wilkins, the ambulance was involved in a crash while transporting a patient. The immunity provision was applicable there because the accident occurred while the ambulance driver was actively rendering “non-emergency medical services” to a patient. Whereas in Hernandez, the ambulance was involved in a crash without a patient which does not fall within the definition of providing “non-emergency medical services.”

The court explained that the EMS Act immunity provision is limited in scope. The Act provides immunity to authorized individuals while transporting patients to health care facilities. The immunity does not apply to an ambulance driver who is in transit to pick up a patient for non-emergency transport. Thus, this ambulance driver was held liable for injuries he caused just as any other motorist would have been.