Illinois Appellate Court Rejects Emergency Room Doctor’s Claim That He is Immune under the Good Samaritan Act

The Illinois Good Samaritan Act (745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2010)) states that a medical professional who, in good faith, “provides emergency care without fee to a person” should be immune from civil damages except in the case of willful or wanton misconduct. Immunity from suit was the position taken by Dr. Michael Murphy because his patient, who claimed he was injured by Murphy’s negligence, never got billed for the doctor’s emergency room services at Provena St. Mary’s Hospital. Dr. Murphy argued that he should be immune from liability for negligence after the patient filed a lawsuit against him.

The First District Appellate Court rejected that argument under the Illinois Good Samaritan Act because it found there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not the doctor acted in “good faith” and found that since the doctor was compensated the act did not apply.

“Nowhere in the legislative history of the act is it ever stated that the intent of the act was to immunize emergency room physicians who are paid for their time,” Justice Stuart Palmer wrote in the court’s opinion.

The appellate court reversed the trial judge’s decision that granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Murphy and his employer, Emergency Care and Health Organization, Ltd. (ECHO). The higher court overturned that decision finding that Murphy was not entitled to immunity under the Good Samaritan Act.
The Good Samaritan Act, which was passed in 1996, grants protection for the generous and compassionate acts of citizens who volunteer to help others. In this case, Dr. Murphy worked as an emergency room physician at Provena St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, Ill. His employer, ECHO, provided physician services under a contract to the hospital’s emergency room every day.

While working in 2001, Murphy responded to a “code blue” for a man who needed immediate medical attention. Murphy attempted to insert a breathing tube into the patient’s throat to help him breath. Unfortunately, the patient suffered permanent brain injury in the process.

The thrust of Murphy’s argument on summary judgment was that neither Murphy nor his employer, ECHO, ever billed the patient for the emergency services provided. The patient, Edward Anderson, now suffers severe disabilities. Thereafter, Mr. Anderson was adjudicated a disabled person and a disabled person’s estate was established in the name of a bank, Home Star, which filed the lawsuit here alleging medical negligence against Murphy and ECHO.

Murphy filed the motion for summary judgment claiming immunity under the Good Samaritan Act, which was granted by the trial judge. But the appellate court explained that a “fee” is capable of being understood in two different ways: the client being billed or the physician being paid. Murphy still received pay for his work by his employer, ECHO. He did not provide emergency medical care without a fee and therefore, the Good Samaritan Act would not apply. There was also the fact issue as to whether Murphy was acting in good faith. With the appellate court’s reversal of the trial court’s summary judgment order, the case was remanded back to the trial court for further disposition.

Dr. Murphy also argued in the appellate court that, as an alternative to his basis for summary judgment under the Good Samaritan Act, he was also entitled to that judgment based on his assertion that he had not deviated from the standard of care. However, the trial court did not address that theory because Dr. Murphy was found to be immune from liability under the Act by the trial judge.
Home Star Bank and Financial Services, etc., et al. v. Emergency Care and Health Organization, Ltd., et al., 2012 IL App. (1st) 112321.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling lawsuits in medical negligence and wrongful death for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Stickney, Bedford Park, Chicago (Garfield Ridge), Chicago (Midway), Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Itasca, Alsip, Chicago (Lincoln Square), Skokie, Des Plaines, Rolling Meadows, Romeoville, Geneva, Aurora and Lisle, Ill.

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