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Karen Wilkins v. Rhonda Williams

March 20, 2012

KAREN WILKINS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RHONDA WILLIAMS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AGENT OF SUPERIOR AIR GROUND AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., D/B/A SUPERIOR AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., AND SUPERIOR AIR-GROUND AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., D/B/A SUPERIOR AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC.,
DEFENDANTS- APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 07 L 12829 The Honorable Lynn M. Egan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harris

JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Quinn and Justice Connors concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Karen Wilkins, appeals the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Rhonda Williams, individually and as agent of Superior Air Ground Ambulance Service, Inc. (Superior), and Superior Air-Ground Ambulance Service, Inc., on Wilkins' negligence claim arising from a motor vehicle accident. On appeal, Wilkins contends (1) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment based on defendants' immunity from civil liability under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) System Act (210 ILCS 50/2 3.150(a), and (b) (West 2006)) (EMS Act), where the EMS Act does not immunize defendants from liability for injuries sustained by third parties; and (2) genuine issues of material fact exist on whether Williams engaged in willful and wanton misconduct, rendering civil immunity under the EMS Act inapplicable to this case. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand.

¶ 2 JURISDICTION

¶ 3 The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants on May 27, 2010. Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal on June 25, 2010. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rules 301 and 303 governing appeals from final judgments entered below. Ill. S. Ct. R. 301 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994); R. 303 (eff. May 30, 2008).

¶ 4 BACKGROUND

¶ 5 Williams, an employee of Superior, was driving an ambulance engaged in the non-emergency transport of a patient to a facility when she collided with a vehicle driven by Wilkins. Wilkins sustained serious injuries and filed a negligence claim against defendants. Defendants answered the complaint and filed two affirmative defenses. First, they asserted immunity from civil liability under the EMS Act because they were providing medical services to a patient at the time of the accident. Second, they asserted a comparative negligence count against plaintiff. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and the following evidence was presented at the summary judgment proceedings.

¶ 6 Superior is licensed under the EMS Act to provide non-emergency and emergency medical services. Williams and Vernette Henderson are licensed emergency medical technicians (EMT) and employees of Superior. As an EMT, Williams was a first responder and provided precare to patients. When transporting a patient, she and her partner decide between themselves who will drive the ambulance and who will stay in the back with the patient. On November 14, 2005, Williams was driving an ambulance engaged in the non-emergency transport of a patient while Henderson attended to the patient. Williams drove the ambulance without emergency lights or sirens and proceeded westbound on 95th Street in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She was in the farthest right lane of three lanes and the traffic was flowing, not stop and go. An Avalanche truck was in the middle lane and a semitruck was in the furthest left lane. The semitruck obstructed her view of traffic going eastbound on 95th. Consequently, Williams did not see Wilkins' vehicle making a turn across the westbound lanes until she hit it and she did not apply the brakes before striking the car. Pursuant to standard procedure, Superior administered drug tests to Williams and Henderson and both passed.

¶ 7 Nasir Nasir testified in a deposition that he was driving a tow truck in the middle lane going westbound on 95th when he observed the accident. It was rush hour and dark outside. Traffic was heavy and he was stopped at a light because the traffic was backed up. Traffic in the right lane was moving, however, probably because vehicles were making right turns. Nasir saw Wilkins' car, traveling eastbound on 95th, attempting to make a left turn. There was no left-turn lane. The vehicles in the far left and middle lanes going westbound "let her car go" but as she attempted to cross over the far right lane the ambulance hit her. Nasir stated that he did not believe the ambulance was speeding. He could not recall whether a semitruck was in the far left westbound lane, but he did not think so because he could see oncoming traffic and the cars from his truck.

¶ 8 In her deposition, Linda Sedakis stated that on November 14, 2005, she was driving an Avalanche and had just pulled out of Christ Hospital after visiting her grandmother. She was westbound on 95th street in the middle lane, and the cars in the far left and middle had stopped for Wilkins' car. She did not recall any traffic on the right lane because most drivers used the lane as a right-turn lane and would not "sit in the right lane." As Sedakis approached the stoplight, she saw that it was red "for at least easily a minute." The vehicle in the far left lane was already stopped at the light. Sedakis stated that the vehicle was a car, not a truck, because if "it was a truck, [she] wouldn't be able to see past it to where [Wilkins'] car was." Space opened up in front of Sedakis, but she remained stopped because the vehicle in the far left lane was stopped, and Sedakis saw Wilkins with a left-turn signal and knew she wanted to make a turn. Wilkins turned in front of Sedakis and stopped for a "split second" before inching farther. Sedakis did not believe Wilkins could see around her Avalanche. As Wilkins proceeded, Sedakis looked in her side view mirror and saw the ambulance approaching at about 35 to 40 miles per hour. It was not speeding. After the accident, she drove off but then returned to speak with a police officer. She told him that she did not believe the ambulance driver was at fault, nor could she blame the driver of the car. She also spoke with the ambulance driver and asked if she was alright. The driver informed her that she was transporting a patient.

¶ 9 Henderson in her deposition stated that on November 14, 2005, she and Williams were transporting a patient to a nursing home. It was a normal transport that did not require activating the lights or sirens on the ambulance. At the time of the accident, she was sitting in the captain's chair in the back with the patient. She monitored the patient's condition during transport. From her seat in the back, Henderson could not see the traffic on 95th Street. She only felt the impact of the accident when it occurred.

ΒΆ 10 Wilkins testified that on the day of the accident, she was traveling eastbound on 95th and tried to make a left turn to go to a doctor's office. She does not have any memory of the collision, only that she awoke at Christ Hospital afterwards and remained there until January 2006. She suffered ...


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