Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed June 20, 2013
Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310
Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (1st) 101805.
JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride dissented, with opinion.
The plaintiff driver in this 2005 automobile accident was injured when she was going east on 95th Street in Oak Lawn to reach a doctor’s office. She attempted to turn left across three lanes of oncoming traffic. The two oncoming lanes closest to her stopped for her, but she collided with a vehicle in the curbside lane, which did not. It was a private ambulance driven by this defendant, who was making a nonemergency transfer of a patient from a hospital to a nursing home, without flashing lights or siren. Although plaintiff remembered attempting to turn left, she had no memory of the collision. She suffered a brain injury from the accident and continues to receive therapy and treatment. A negligence action seeking damage recovery from the ambulance driver and the employer, the ambulance company, was filed in the circuit court of Cook County. Willful and wanton misconduct was not alleged.
Under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act, the defense claimed immunity, and the trial court granted summary judgment in its favor. However, the appellate court refused to find any such immunity and reversed. The Act provides that any person licensed under it “who in good faith provides emergency or non-emergency medical services *** in the normal course of 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.” The statute does not speak to who might have a claim for injury caused by such “acts or omissions” and, thus, might be unable to recover because of the immunity so granted. Referring to the plaintiff here as a “third party” and to the ambulance driver as one who engaged in “ordinary operation of a motor vehicle,” the appellate court opined that the “Act cannot be read to immunize ambulance drivers from third-party claims of negligence in the ordinary operation of a motor vehicle.” The appellate court was impressed with the extent to which the statutory rules of the road call upon drivers of emergency vehicles, even in nonemergencies, to exercise caution.
The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed and reversed, saying that the appellate court had read into the Act what it does not say. The legislature was concerned that failure to give the broad immunity granted would deter people from becoming emergency workers or deter emergency workers from performing their duties, for fear of liability.
The circuit court was upheld in its granting of summary judgment for the defense. There was no need to remand as to willful or wanton misconduct, as that was not at issue.