Is an Emergency Room Physician Protected From Liability By the Good Samaritan Act?

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In the final days of the March term, the Illinois Supreme Court granted review in Home Star Bank & Financial Services v. Emergency Care & Health Organization, Ltd., which poses the question of whether physicians qualify for immunity under the Good Samaritan Act when they were paid by their physician groups to provide emergency care in a hospital.

The defendant physician was employed in the emergency department of the hospital. He responded to a "Code Blue" for the patient, who was being cared for on another floor. The defendant attempted to intubate the patient, but complications ensued, and the patient suffered permanent brain injury.

The guardians of the patient filed suit against the physician and his group, alleging negligence. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the physician and his employer were immune from liability under the Good Samaritan Act, 745 ILCS 49/25, which provides that any physician "who, in good faith, provides emergency care without fee to a person, shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person, in providing the care, be liable for civil damages." In response, plaintiffs argued that the defendant was not a volunteer since he was compensated on an hourly basis for his services. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment, finding that the defendant's employer had never billed either the patient or his insurer for the defendant's services.

The Appellate Court reversed. The court declined to follow Estate of Heanue, where the Appellate Court held that a physician who had not billed specifically for emergency care services hadn't charged a fee within the meaning of the Good Samaritan Act, even if the physician had received some economic benefit from providing services. A physician could not be a volunteer if he or she was paid by anyone for the services provided, the Court held. The defendant was not voluntarily present at the hospital; he was paid by his physician group. "The Good Samaritan Act was meant to protect volunteers," the Court wrote. "It was never meant to be a shelter for practicing physicians who, acting in the scope of their employment, receive payment for their emergency services."

We expect Home Star Bank to be decided in the winter or spring of 2013-2014.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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