Illinois Appellate Court Rules that an Emergency-Room Physician who Rode in Ambulance is Immune from Medical Malpractice

The Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the emergency-room resident physician, Dr. Nicholas Strane, was immune from suit under the Illinois Emergency Medical Services System Act.

This case arises out of transporting an 11-year-old boy, Donail Weems, who had a severe asthma attack and was taken to Provident Hospital, which is managed by Cook County. One of the physicians who rode along in the ambulance was Dr. Strane, a University of Chicago Medical Center physician. The University of Chicago Medical Center asked the Illinois Appellate court, First District Court to address whether one of its doctors was immune under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act.

The trial was held in July 2013; the presiding judge denied the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, which asserted civil immunity, but the judge certified the question for appellate review.

In the 16-page opinion written by Justice Thomas E. Hoffman, the panel found that EMS medical directors who are immune under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act may engage doctors to ride in an ambulance when an emergency situation requires more advanced medical skills than paramedics.

“An opposite outcome would serve to discourage EMS [M]edical [D]irectors from utilizing medical personnel with advanced training during such emergencies and non-emergency transports, which would defeat the very purpose behind the [A]ct and its immunity provision.”

Plaintiff Denise Bass filed her complaint in September 2008 after her 11-year-old son Donail was taken to Provident Hospital where he was intubated and connected to a medical ventilator. Provident’s doctors decided he needed to be transferred to the nearest pediatric intensive-care unit at the University of Chicago Hospital.

Under the EMS Act, the state’s department of Public Health designates EMS regions where hospitals and other medical service providers collaborate on logistics and emergency protocols.

In the Chicago area, the University of Chicago Hospital serves as one of the four designated resource hospitals and Provident Hospital was within its system plan.

Provident Hospital requested an emergency transfer of Donail to the University of Chicago Hospital. The acting EMS medical director approved the transfer and directed emergency room resident Dr. Strane to go along to assist. During the ambulance ride, Dr. Strane and the EMS team took Donail off the medical ventilator and started manual bag ventilations. Twice during the nineteen-minute ride, Donail required chest compressions. Donail was revived upon arrival at the University of Chicago Hospital, but suffered an anoxic brain injury. In July 2013, while the medical-malpractice case was still pending against Cook County, unfortunately, Donail passed away.

The lawsuit initially named Cook County as the only party defendant. But an amended complaint filed in 2012 alleged that Dr. Strane was negligent for choosing not to manage Donail’s blood carbon dioxide levels and treat his respiratory failure before starting the transfer. The lawsuit also alleged that the University of Chicago Hospital was vicariously liable for Dr. Strane’s actions.

The University of Chicago Hospital argued that the EMS Act provided civil immunity to Dr. Strane and itself as his employer.

The plaintiff maintained that the EMS Act was only intended for paramedics and other EMS staff, not physicians. The appellate court disagreed.

“Applying the plain meaning of ‘authorized’ to the [A]cts’ language, we find that, while Dr. Strane may not have been ‘licensed’ pursuant to the [A]ct, he certainly was ‘authorized’ by it to participate in Donail’s inter-hospital emergency transport.”

The appeals panel found that Dr. Strane’s participation in the transport was exactly what the Act had contemplated. This is a situation in which medical personnel such as Dr. Strane — with his expertise –were needed because of the peculiar and emergent needs of the patient. The appeals court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that its ruling provides blanket immunity of emergency physicians.

“On the contrary, the scope of services covered by the [A]ct is limited to the emergency medical services described therein, which includes inter-emergency transport of critically ill patients.”

Since the court reversed the trial judge’s order granting summary judgment for the University of Chicago Medical Center, the court also noted that if the case were to go to trial, Cook County would not be able to ‘empty chair’ the hospital (University of Chicago) because they’re not somebody under the statute who could have been named (as a defendant).”

Denise Bass v. Cook County Hospital, d/b/a Provident Hospital, 2015 IL App (1st) 142665.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice cases, wrongful death cases, hospital negligence cases and birth injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Palatine, Antioch, Arlington Heights, Gurnee, Grayslake, Homewood, Tinley Park, Schiller Park, Schaumburg, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Mundelein, University Park, Calumet City, Deerfield, Wilmette, Winnetka, Willowbrook and Highwood, Ill.

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