Hernandez v. Lifeline Ambulance, LLC, Docket No. 124610

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE MICHAEL J. BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Citation450 Ill.Dec. 131,181 N.E.3d 131,2020 IL 124610
Decision Date18 June 2020
Docket NumberDocket No. 124610
Parties Roberto HERNANDEZ, Appellee, v. LIFELINE AMBULANCE, LLC, et al., Appellants.

2020 IL 124610
181 N.E.3d 131
450 Ill.Dec.
131

Roberto HERNANDEZ, Appellee,
v.
LIFELINE AMBULANCE, LLC, et al., Appellants.

Docket No. 124610

Supreme Court of Illinois.

Opinion filed June 18, 2020.
Rehearing denied September 28, 2020


181 N.E.3d 132

Michael Resis and Lew R.C. Bricker, of SmithAmundsen LLC, of Chicago, for appellants.

Michael W. Kelly, of Chicago, for appellee.

John K. Kennedy and Daniel Watkins II, of Kennedy Watkins LLC, of Chicago, for amicus curiae Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

OPINION

JUSTICE MICHAEL J. BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

450 Ill.Dec. 132

¶ 1 The issue presented is whether section 3.150 of the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act (EMS Act) ( 210 ILCS 50/3.150 (West 2016) ) provides immunity from liability—to an ambulance owner and its driver—stemming from a motor-vehicle accident caused by the negligent operation of the ambulance while en route to pick up a patient for nonemergency transportation. We answer this question in the negative, holding that defendants are not immune

181 N.E.3d 133
450 Ill.Dec. 133

from liability under the circumstances of this case.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Plaintiff, Roberto Hernandez, suffered bodily injuries on March 11, 2016, when a private ambulance owned by Lifeline Ambulance, LLC (Lifeline), and driven by Joshua M. Nicholas ran a red light at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and collided with plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff filed a three-count, first amended complaint against defendants in the circuit court of Cook County, seeking to recover damages for his injuries based on the negligence of the driver (count I), the willful and wanton misconduct of the driver (count II), and the doctrine of respondeat superior (count III). Plaintiff's complaint alleged that, at the time of the collision, defendant Nicholas was not operating the vehicle with his lights and siren engaged. Plaintiff further alleged that Nicholas was not proceeding in the ambulance in response to an emergency and that nobody on board was in the process of providing emergency or nonemergency medical services at the time of the collision.

¶ 4 American Access Casualty Company (American), as plaintiff's automobile insurer, brought a subrogation action against defendants. The two lawsuits were identical in their theories of liability and were eventually consolidated.

¶ 5 Pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) ( 735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2016) ), defendants moved to dismiss with prejudice counts I and III of both complaints based on the immunity provision of the EMS Act.1 Defendants asserted that Nicholas was operating Lifeline's ambulance in the performance of nonemergency medical services within the meaning of the EMS Act at the time of the collision with plaintiff's vehicle and, as a consequence, they are immune from civil liability unless Nicholas's acts or omissions constituted willful or wanton misconduct. Defendants supported their motion with the affidavits of Nicholas and Eric Hagman, a Lifeline employee who was a passenger in the ambulance at the time of the collision with plaintiff's vehicle. The affidavits state that, prior to the collision, Nicholas and Hagman received a radio dispatch from Lifeline "directing the ambulance crew to proceed to pick up a patient in the western suburbs for transport to a second location."

¶ 6 Plaintiff's response argued that the immunity provision of the EMS Act does not apply to the operation of an ambulance until it is engaged in providing medical services to a patient. Plaintiffs maintained that the mere use of the ambulance to pick up a patient for nonemergency transport is not conduct covered by the immunity set forth in the EMS Act.

¶ 7 The affidavits and exhibits presented by the parties in support of their arguments show that the nonemergency transport at issue in this case involved a patient that had undergone dialysis treatment at a health care facility in Villa Park, Illinois, during the morning of March 11, 2016. The patient was scheduled to be picked up from the dialysis center between 11:59 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. and then transported back to Hillside, Illinois. At 12:22 p.m. on

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450 Ill.Dec. 134

the day in question, Lifeline first assigned an ambulance staffed by Wade Overton and Samantha Robledo to pick up the patient. But at 12:30 p.m. the pickup was reassigned to the crew of Nicholas and Hagman, the crew involved in the accident at issue. Nicholas and Hagman were to drive approximately 20 miles from Lakeshore Drive in Chicago to Villa Park. But a few minutes after dispatch, Nicholas ran the red light, and the collision ensued. Four minutes after the accident, Lifeline reassigned the transport of the patient to a third ambulance crew.

¶ 8 The circuit court granted defendants' motion to dismiss in part. It dismissed with prejudice the claims grounded in negligence, specifically counts I and III of plaintiff's first amended complaint and count I of American's amended complaint. The court, however, denied the motion to dismiss claims grounded in willful and wanton misconduct, specifically count II of both plaintiff's first amended complaint and American's amended complaint. The court found that the EMS Act's immunity applies when an ambulance has been "dispatched for non-emergency medical services and there is no patient in the vehicle." The court further found that there was no just reason for delaying appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016).

¶ 9 Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal, but American did not appeal. On appeal, plaintiff argued before the appellate court, as he did before the circuit court, that the immunity provision of the EMS Act does not apply to the operation of an ambulance until it is engaged in providing medical services. He pointed out that, at the time of the collision, Lifeline's ambulance was not transporting a patient or providing medical services to any patient. Rather, it was en route to pick up a patient—who was many miles away in the western suburbs—for a nonemergency transport.

¶ 10 The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, agreed with plaintiff. It found that defendant's contention that section 3.150 of the EMS Act immunizes the driver of an ambulance from liability for negligence in the operation of the ambulance from the time that the ambulance is dispatched to provide nonemergency medical transportation but before the patient is actually in transit fails to take into consideration the statutory definition of nonemergency medical services found in the EMS Act. 2019 IL App (1st) 180696, ¶ 17, 429 Ill.Dec. 723, 125 N.E.3d 429. The appellate court stated that the EMS Act defines " ‘non-emergency medical services’ as medical services rendered to patients ‘during transportation of such patient to health care facilities.’ " Id. (quoting 210 ILCS 50/3.10(g) (West 2016)). The appellate court concluded that, "[h]ad the legislature intended to provide immunity for the negligence of an ambulance driver while en route to pick up a patient for transport as suggested by defendants, it could have included the activity within the definition of ‘nonemergency medical services.’ " Id. ¶ 18. The appellate court noted that the legislature had not done so and that the court was not at liberty to do so under the guise of statutory construction. Id.

¶ 11 Defendants filed a petition for leave to appeal, which we allowed. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2018). We later granted the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association's request to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiff. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 20, 2010).

¶ 12 ANALYSIS

¶ 13 The question presented before this court is whether section 3.150(a) of the EMS Act immunizes defendants from liability

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181 N.E.3d 135

with respect to a negligence claim resulting from a traffic accident that occurred on the way to pick up a patient for a nonemergency transport.

¶ 14 The claims at the center of this appeal were dismissed by the circuit court pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code. A motion to dismiss brought under that section admits the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint but asserts affirmative matter that defeats the claim. Smith v. The Vanguard Group, Inc. , 2019 IL 123264, ¶ 9, 432 Ill.Dec. 673, 129 N.E.3d 1216. Immunity from tort liability is an affirmative matter that may properly be raised in a section 2-619 motion. Sandholm v. Kuecker , 2012 IL 111443, ¶ 54, 356 Ill.Dec. 733, 962 N.E.2d 418. When ruling on such motions, a court must accept as true all well-pled facts in the plaintiff's complaint and any reasonable inferences that arise from those facts. Patrick Engineering, Inc. v. City of Naperville , 2012 IL 113148, ¶ 31, 364 Ill.Dec. 40, 976 N.E.2d 318. Our review of the propriety of a section 2-619 dismissal is de novo . In re Estate...

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1 practice notes
  • People v. Swenson, Docket No. 124688
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • June 18, 2020
    ...persons " ‘merely for peacefully expressing unpopular views.’ " People v. Raby , 40 Ill. 2d 392, 397, 240 N.E.2d 595 (1968) (quoting 181 N.E.3d 131450 Ill.Dec. 131 Cox v. Louisiana , 379 U.S. 536, 551, 85 S.Ct. 453, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965) ). The result reached in the majority's opinion, howe......
1 cases
  • People v. Swenson, Docket No. 124688
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • June 18, 2020
    ...persons " ‘merely for peacefully expressing unpopular views.’ " People v. Raby , 40 Ill. 2d 392, 397, 240 N.E.2d 595 (1968) (quoting 181 N.E.3d 131450 Ill.Dec. 131 Cox v. Louisiana , 379 U.S. 536, 551, 85 S.Ct. 453, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965) ). The result reached in the majority's opinion, howe......

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