Illinois’ Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act (EMS Act) provides immunity from civil liability—except in the case of willful and wanton misconduct—to all licensed or authorized EMS providers who provide “emergency or non-emergency medical services” in good faith in the normal course of their duties or in an emergency. 210 ILCS 50/3.150. Determining when the provision of medical services begins is essential to identifying when the immunity is triggered.
The provision of medical services includes preparatory conduct. For example, the Illinois Supreme Court applied immunity in a case involving allegations of negligence in locating a patient at the scene of the emergency: American National Bank & Trust Co. v. City of Chicago. In American National, the patient provided her address to the 911 operator and indicated that she lived on the third floor. The responding paramedics were allowed into the apartment building by a neighbor and knocked on the door of the only other apartment on the third floor. A firefighter knocked on the back door. There was no response. The paramedics left after confirming that they were at the correct address; the dispatcher did not reach the patient when returning the call; and the neighbor indicated that a young couple, with no apparent medical problems, lived at the apartment. The paramedics were called back to the scene later that day, and, after being let into the apartment, they found the patient dead on the floor. The plaintiff argued that the EMS Act only applies when paramedics have actually rendered treatment to the patient. The Court disagreed. Am. Nat., 192 Ill. 2d 274, 276 (2000).
Travel to Patients
In a recent case, Hernandez v. Lifeline Ambulance, LLC, the defendants argued that traveling to a patient qualified as preparatory conduct. There, the private ambulance driver ran a red light while driving on a nonemergency basis to pick up a patient from a dialysis center about twenty miles away. The Court held that such nonemergency travel to a patient does not qualify as a protected medical service under the EMS Act. In rejecting the defendants’ attempt to categorize such travel as preparatory conduct, the Court emphasized that preparatory conduct does not begin until the EMS providers arrive at the scene. Hernandez v. Lifeline Ambulance, LLC, 2020 IL 124610. As the American National Court previously explained: “Locating a person in need of emergency medical treatment is the first step in providing life support services.” Am. Nat., 192 Ill. 2d at 286 (emphasis added).
Although travel to a patient may not be protected, patient transport is immunized pursuant to the EMS Act. In Wilkins v. Williams, the Illinois Supreme Court held that immunity under the EMS Act applied to negligent driving during nonemergency transportation of a patient. Such immunity even applies to injuries sustained by third parties, such as the plaintiff motorist in Wilkins. In its decision, the Court made clear that not all travel is alike; while patient transport is protected, merely driving to and from work would not be immunized—a distinction which the Hernandez Court took one step further. Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310.
Under Illinois case law, there is a distinction between mere travel and patient transport. EMS providers should be mindful of this distinction, particularly when driving en route to patients. As such, the Hernandez decision serves as a reminder for EMS providers to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.
(This article does not constitute legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. It does not provide a comprehensive analysis of all potentially applicable immunities. Additional immunities—such as the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act—and statutory provisions made need to be considered. Please contact legal counsel for additional information.)