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Home Star Bank & Fin. Servs. v. Emergency Care & Health Org., Ltd.

Supreme Court of Illinois

March 20, 2014

HOME STAR BANK AND FINANCIAL SERVICES, Guardian of the Estate of Edward Anderson, a Disabled Person, et al., Appellees,
v.
EMERGENCY CARE AND HEALTH ORGANIZATION, LTD., et al., Appellants

Page 129

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

When a hospital's emergency room physician responded to a Code Blue by going to the intensive care unit, his alleged negligence there was not immunized by the Good Samaritan Act, even though no fee was charged for his services, where he was expected to respond to Code Blues as part of his job.

Kevin J. Vedrine, Christopher J. Solfa and Robert L. Larsen, of Cunningham, Meyer & Vedrine, P.C., of Warrenville, for appellant.

Keith A. Hebeisen, of Clifford Law Offices, of Chicago (Robert P. Sheridan, of counsel), for appellees.

Mary Alice McLarty and Valerie M. Nannery, of Washington, D.C., and James P. Costello, of Costello, McMahon, Burke & Murphy, Ltd., of Chicago, for amicus curiae American Association for Justice.

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

THOMAS, JUSTICE

Page 130

[¶1] Plaintiffs, Darby Thomas and Home Star Bank & Financial Services, as guardian of the estate of Edward Anderson, a disabled person, filed suit against defendants Michael T. Murphy, O.D., and his employer, Emergency Care & Health Organization, Ltd. (ECHO), alleging that Dr. Murphy was negligent in treating Anderson. The circuit court of Cook County concluded that Dr. Murphy was immune from liability pursuant to section 25 of the Good Samaritan Act (the Act) (745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2010)) and granted summary judgment to defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Appellate Court, First District, reversed and remanded. 2012 IL App (1st) 112321, 983 N.E.2d 45, 367 Ill.Dec. 891. The court held that the Act was meant to apply to volunteers, not to those who treat patients within the scope of their employment and are compensated for doing so. We allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal and, for the reasons that follow, we affirm the appellate court.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] On August 22, 2001, Anderson was admitted to Provena St. Mary's Hospital through the emergency room and was later transferred to the intensive care unit. Anderson was diagnosed with epiglottitis. On August 25, Anderson began having labored breathing and pain on swallowing. A Code Blue was called at approximately 3:20 a.m. Dr. Murphy, who was working in the emergency room at the time, responded to the Code Blue and attempted to intubate Anderson. Anderson suffered a severe and permanent brain injury. Plaintiffs filed a negligence action against Dr. Murphy and ECHO, alleging that Dr. Murphy's care and treatment of Anderson were the cause of Anderson's injuries.

[¶4] Dr. Murphy denied the allegations and moved for summary judgment, asserting that he was immune from liability for negligence under section 25 of the Act. ECHO later joined the motion for summary judgment. Section 25 provides as follows:

" Any person licensed under the Medical Practice Act of 1987 or any person licensed to practice the treatment of human ailments in any other state or territory of the United States 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." 745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2010).

Dr. Murphy contended that section 25 applied because he provided emergency care to Anderson, and Anderson was not billed for that care. Although ECHO had billed Anderson for services its physicians provided him during a previous emergency room visit on August 22, 2001, it did not bill for Dr. Murphy's services during the Code Blue. The hospital billed Anderson for supplies used during the Code Blue, but not for any physician's services.

[¶5] In their response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs argued that the Good Samaritan Act was inapplicable because Dr. Murphy was simply doing his job when he treated Anderson, and he was not providing his services " without fee." ECHO was the exclusive provider of emergency room physicians at Provena, and Dr. Murphy was under contract with ECHO. ECHO paid Dr. Murphy by the hour, and he was not allowed to bill patients directly. Plaintiffs argued that, just because no discrete bill was sent for Dr. Murphy's services,

Page 131

that did not mean that Dr. Murphy was providing his services " without fee."

[¶6] The parties submitted various exhibits and discovery depositions in support of their positions. First, with respect to Dr. Murphy's job responsibilities, an " independent contractor agreement" between ECHO and Dr. Murphy provided that Dr. Murphy would provide emergency medical services in the hospital's emergency department and that he would be paid by the hour. The hourly amount would be the sole amount he would receive for his services. In addition to Dr. Murphy's responsibilities in the emergency department, the agreement provided that Dr. Murphy would have the following " inpatient" responsibilities:

" Physician shall not provide any general or routine care of patients already hospitalized under the care of another physician.
However, in dire emergencies, i.e., cardiorespiratory (or impending) arrest, Physician may render service to any patient, as long as there is not an emergency department patient requiring his/her immediate presence, and only until the patient[']s personal physician has assumed ongoing care."

The agreement further provided that Dr. Murphy would abide by, and render emergency medical services in accordance with, the bylaws, rules and regulations of the hospital and departmental policies and procedures, using his professional judgment.

[¶7] The " exclusive emergency room services agreement" between ECHO and the Hospital provided that ECHO would be the exclusive provider of emergency room physician services at the Hospital. Under the agreement, the " primary obligation of ECHO's physicians when in service at HOSPITAL's emergency room shall be to care for any and all patients presenting themselves for treatment at the emergency room." The agreement made clear that ECHO's physicians were independent contractors rather than employees of the hospital, and that they were to provide treatment only until the patient's attending physician could be present and assume responsibility. ECHO's physicians were required to discharge their duties in accordance with the " Bylaws, Rules, Regulations, and policies of HOSPITAL and the MEDICAL STAFF Bylaws." Further, ECHO would bill patients directly for the services its physicians provided.

[¶8] The hospital's " Clinical Operations/Nursing" policy set forth the procedures for the " Code Blue and Cardiac Arrest Team." This policy set forth the Code Blue responsibilities of the ER physician as follows:

" Responds to all Code Blues in the hospital. Directs Code Blue Team in CPR, defibrillation and cardioversion and medication therapy. Intubates the patient. For DNR patients in Ancillary Departments, assess for Code continuance."

Nancy Frizzell, who was the nursing supervisor at St. Mary's on the night of Anderson's Code Blue, explained in her deposition that, although this document is a nursing policy, every employee of the hospital was expected to follow it. It was Frizzell's experience that when a Code Blue occurs at night, the emergency room physician normally responds. She said that when a Code Blue was called, the emergency room doctor would drop what he or she was doing to respond to the code. Also, even when physicians on the unit responded to a Code Blue, the emergency room doctor would come when he or she could.

[¶9] In his deposition, Dr. Murphy left no doubt that responding to Code Blues was part of his job:

Page 132

" Q. Had you responded to any Code Blues at St. Mary's before this one?
A. Yes.
Q. And was the emergency--was the emergency room physician on duty the physician who would be expected to respond to a Code Blue?
A. Yes.
Q. Were you the only emergency physician working at that--that ...

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