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Good Samaritan Act Does Not Apply to Private Commercial Ambulance Company, But Under Certain Circumstances, Same Company Might Be Entitled to Immunity Under the Fire and Rescue Act
Transcare Maryland Inc. v. Murray
The primary issue in this action was whether the immunity provisions granted by MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § § 5-603 and 5-604 applied to private commercial ambulance companies like the Defendants—TransCare Maryland, Inc. and TransCare (collectively, “TransCare”). The Court of Appeals concluded that while the Good Samaritan Act did not apply to a commercial ambulance companies, it is possible that the Fire and Rescue Act, could, just not under the circumstances of this case.
Here, Plaintiffs were a minor child and his mother. They sued TransCare for injuries sustained by the child arising out of his helicopter transport from Memorial Hospital at Easton (Eastern Memorial) to the University of Maryland Medical System’s (UMMS) pediatric intensive care unit. The Plaintiffs alleged that while in the helicopter, the child’s airway became blocked by his 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, but the Plaintiffs alleged that the mask was located too late, and that the child suffered brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. The Plaintiffs claimed that one of the transport team members, who was employed by TransCare, failed to adhere to the standard of care for paramedics, in that he failed to remove the misplaced endotracheal tube and initiate masked ventilation or mouth-to-mouth breathing or intubation as appropriate, and by failing to promptly locate the oxygen mask. Plaintiffs sued his employer, TransCare, alleging that it was vicariously liable for his conduct.
The trial court granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Plaintiffs’ negligence/malpractice claims were precluded by the Good Samaritan Act (MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-603) and the Fire and Rescue Act (MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-604), but the Court of Special Appeals reversed. Maryland’s highest court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Special Appeals.
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. The Court disagreed with the Defendants’ argument that the Good Samaritan Act applied to any individual licensed by the State to provide medical care, which would include the paramedic employee, and his employer. The Court concluded, based on the legislative history, that a private commercial ambulance company was not intended to be provided immunity under the Act, regardless of whether its employee may be immune.
Similarly, the Fire and Rescue Act provides 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. Initially, the Court noted that ambulance companies are required by statute to maintain general commercial liability insurance coverage of at least $1,000,000, which would not be necessary if they were intended to be protected by immunity. The Court disagreed with the intermediate appellate court, though, by holding that in certain situations, a commercial ambulance company may qualify as a “rescue company” entitled to immunity under the Act. For instance, if a local government privatized emergency services or enlisted commercial entities as first responders, they might be entitled to immunity. However, the Circuit Court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants under the Fire and Rescue Act, because there was no evidence that Transcare was providing emergency services in Maryland or functioning as a first responder in the particular circumstances of this case. The Court differed with the Court of Special Appeals because it did not rule out the possibility that a commercial ambulance company could establish that it performs the function of a “rescue company,” under certain circumstances.
Overall, though, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Special Appeals’ reversal of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to these issues. The case was remanded back to the Circuit Court for Talbot County.
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