Illinois Appellate Court Holds That Emergency Medical Services Act Does Not Immunize Ambulance Drivers for Negligent Driving; Wilkins v. Williams

Rhonda Williams was an employee of Superior Air Ground Ambulance Service and was driving an ambulance when her vehicle crashed into a car driven by the plaintiff, Karen Wilkins. Williams was taking a patient on a non-emergency basis to a nursing home. The ambulance was not using its emergency lights or sirens at the time.

Deposition testimony showed that the crash took place at westbound 95th Street in Oak Lawn, Ill. At that intersection, there were three west-bound lanes. The ambulance was in the outside right lane. The traffic on the left and center lanes had stopped for a red light. The right lane had no stopped traffic because it was primarily used as a right-turn lane.

Just before the crash, Wilkins was turning left from the eastbound lanes of 95th Street. Wilkins proceeded past the left and center westbound lanes before she was hit by the ambulance. According to some testimony, the ambulance driven by Williams did not stop for the red light. Wilkins suffered brain injuries from the crash.

At the trial court level, the judge entered a summary judgment order in favor of the ambulance driver and the ambulance service, finding that immunity was provided by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Act. Therefore, the trial court barred Wilkins’ claim.

The trial court determined that the language of the statute did not limit its applications only to patients who were carried in the vehicle but also to third parties such as Wilkins.

This appeal represented a case of first impression in Illinois. The issue was whether Williams’s actions in making a non-emergency transport were covered by the immunity provisions of the EMS Act and, if so, whether the immunity extends to cover injuries sustained by innocent third parties not directly serviced by the emergency workers.

The EMS Act is found at 2010 ILCS 50/3.150(a).

“Any [licensed person] who in good faith provides emergency or nonemergency medical services . . . in the normal course of conducting their duties, or in an emergency, shall not be civilly liable as a result of their acts or omissions in providing such services unless such acts or omissions . . . constitute willful and wanton misconduct.”

The appellate court answered the question as to whether or not the immunity provision of the EMS Act extends to negligent driving of an ambulance as it might affect a third party. The appellate court began by noting that the duty owed by an ambulance driver to patients is different from the duty owed to other third party drivers. The duty to a patient is from the provision on patient care, whereas the latter is based on the duty every driver owes to every other driver.

The appellate court stated that the EMS Act was ambiguous on the distinction between the ambulance driver’s responsibility to a patient and that to a third party. The court looked to the Illinois Vehicle Code, 625 ILCS 5/11-205 where it addresses the duties of emergency vehicle operators. In that act, it is stated that the driver of an emergency vehicle would apply the same duty of driving with due regard for the safety of all other persons that any driver would have.

Therefore, based on this analysis, the court concluded that the legislature clearly intended that even emergency vehicle drivers owe a duty of care to other motorists. In short, based on the review of the applicable state law, the court held that the general principle that immunities are in derogation of the common law, should be strictly interpreted meaning that the EMS Act’s immunity provision did not include third party tort liability. The summary judgment was reversed and the case sent back to the trial judge for further proceedings and trial.

Karen Wilkins v. Rhonda Williams, 2012 Ill.App. (1st) 101807.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic personal injury matters for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Stickney, Bedford Park, Burbank, Robbins, Harvey, Orland Park, Palos Hills, Lemont and Chicago (Marquette Park), Illinois.

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