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Illinois Supreme Court affirms immunity for emergency medical services to third parties

A privately-employed ambulance driver was transporting a patient from a hospital to a nursing home on a non-emergency basis. The ambulance driver did not use the ambulance’s emergency lights or sirens during transport. The ambulance was in a motor vehicle accident, and the other driver suffered injuries. Is the ambulance driver liable for the other driver’s injuries? 

The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled no, unless the ambulance driver’s conduct was willful and wanton. 

The Illinois legislature has provided tort immunity to certain classes of individuals. The immunity the Illinois legislature extended to the ambulance driver and its company stems from the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act, which states in pertinent part: “[a]ny person who in good faith provides non-emergency medical services in the normal course of conducting their duties 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.” (210 ILCS 50/3.150(a).)

The issue of this case was whether the immunity narrowly applied to patients in the care of the emergency personnel or whether the immunity extended against third parties.

The court extended the immunity enjoyed by emergency personnel against third parties because it felt it does not make sense to solely limit the patient’s cause of action against emergency medical service providers.   

The court utilized the following scenario to emphasize its point: A patient is being transported via ambulance. Family members that are present decide to accompany the patient in the ambulance. During the course of transport, the ambulance is in an accident, and all persons are injured. It does not make sense that the family members could recover for their injuries, but the patient could not. 

“Allowing a third party to recover for negligence against defendants for acts or omissions in providing nonemergency medical services, while limiting the ambulance patient’s recovery to willful and wanton conduct, is … nonsensical.” 

The case is Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310.

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