Commercial ambulances not shielded by the Maryland Good Samaritan Act or the Fire and Rescue Act

In Murray v. Transcare Maryland, Inc., No. 1791, Sept. Term 2010 (Feb. 9, 2012), the Court of Special Appeals held that a private for-profit ambulance service is not subject to Maryland’s Good Samaritan Act (Md. Courts and Jud Code Ann. § 5-603) or to the Fire and Rescue Act (§ 5-604). Both statutes are designed to provide immunity to certain individuals and companies that commit negligent torts while providing emergency services.

The facts were as follows: Transcare is a private, for-profit ambulance service. Bryson Murray, a child, was taken to the emergency room at Easton Memorial Hospital with complaints of congestion and trouble breathing. Bryson was intubated and subsequently transported by helicopter to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of the University of Maryland Medical System. Chris Barbour, a paramedic employed by Transcare, accompanied Bryson in the helicopter. During the flight, Bryson’s airway became blocked, and he required an oxygen mask. Barbour was unable to timely locate the mask, and Bryson suffered permanent brain damage as a result.

Bryson’s mother filed suit against Transcare, alleging that Barbour failed to exercise reasonable care. Transcare moved for summary judgment, invoking the Good Samaritan Act and the Fire and Rescue Act. After extensive analysis of the statutory language and legislative history, the Court of Special Appeals held that neither statute was applicable. The Good Samaritan Act does not apply to a for-profit company like Transcare because the Act’s protection of corporate entities is limited to volunteer service providers. By contrast, the Act would cover an individual paramedic employed by a commercial ambulance company, and therefore would likely immunize Barbour from personal liability.

Likewise, the court held that Transcare was not protected under the Fire and Rescue Act. That statute only applies to “fire companies” and “rescue companies.” The court held that Transcare was not a rescue company because the primary purpose of an ambulance is to transport the sick, not to save people from danger. The court stated in dicta that since ambulance companies are not defined as “rescue companies” under the Fire and Rescue Act, the Act would not apply even if a tort occurs while an ambulance company is engaged in providing rescue services (e.g. in an emergency situation).

In a separate part of its opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to transfer venue from Baltimore City to Talbot County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because the tort occurred in Talbot County, several witnesses were located in Talbot County, and neither party resided in Baltimore City.

Categories: Defenses, Maryland