Medical Malpractice Verdict Affirmed by Illinois Appellate Court: Good Samaritan Act Does Not Apply

A Lake County, Illinois circuit court presided over Muno v. Condell Medical Center, et al., (No. 2-06-0587), a medical negligence case where a minor died after the planned surgery failed with respect to the anesthesiology provided. In this case, the anesthesiologist and his group decided not to bill the family after this child died during surgery. When the family brought suit against the anesthesiologist for his anesthesiology error, the physicians argued that he should be immune from any legal action under the Good Samaritan Act because he did not bill for his services.

Good Samaritan Act Regarding Exemption from Civil Liability for Emergency Care

Any [physician] who, in good faith, provides emergency care without fee to a person, shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person, in providing the care, be liable for civil damages. (745 ILCS 49/25)

At the bench trial the jury ruled in favor of the child’s family . But one of the defendants, an anesthesiologist, appealed the verdict stating that the court should rule in his favor because he didn’t bill the family for his services. The appellate court relied on Estate of Heanue v. Edgcomb for the proposition that a doctor cannot simply withhold a bill to the injured patient and stand behind the immunity provided by the Good Samaritan Act each time he/she choses not to diagnose, treat or simply errors causing injury or death to a patient.

The crux of the issue was what the anesthesiologist motives were for not billing for his services. The decedent’s family argued that it was a method of avoiding legal liability and that he knew about the Good Samaritan Act. Whereas the defendant testified that he was not aware of the Act, but had decided not to bill as an act of “good faith”.

The Act states its purpose as establishing “protections for the generous and compassionate acts of its citizens who volunteer their time and talents to help others”. A method of qualifying that a physicians actions are in keeping with the spirit of the Act is by determining whether they were done in good faith. This can be defined as the honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act. So in short, doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because it will yield advantageous results.

At trial this defendant anesthesiologist testified that he met with the hospital’s anesthesiology department for an extended period of time after the decedent’s operation. The doctor denied that they discussed, for legal reasons, to waive any fees connected to the surgery. Because there was no other evidence brought forward to support the defendant’s good faith claim, the appeals court held that the jury is free to accept the inference that they did in fact talk about no bill for services as a legal device. And if the jury believed that the lack of bill was not an act of good faith, but rather a way to avoid liability then the anesthesiologist can not evoke immunity under the Good Samaritan Act.

Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing medical malpractice law in Chicago and Cook County for over 30 years in such areas as Arlington Heights, Evanston, Maywood, and Tinley Park.

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