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Hicks v. The City of O'Fallon

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 28, 2019

JEREMY HICKS and ISAIAH SAMPSON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE CITY OF O'FALLON, Defendant-Appellee.

          Rule 23 Order Filed: August 6, 2019

          Motion to publish granted August 28, 2019.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 16-L-660 Honorable Christopher T. Kolker, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellants Jeremy A. Gogel, 4542 West Pine Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108

          Attorney for Appellee Brian M. Funk, O'Halloran, Kosoff, Geitner & Cook, LLC, 650 Dundee Road, Suite 475, Northbrook, IL 60062

          JUSTICE BARBERIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cates and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BARBERIS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 On November 11, 2015, an ambulance, driven by a paramedic employed by the City of O'Fallon, Illinois (City), was involved in a single vehicle accident.[1] Plaintiffs Jeremy Hicks and Isaiah Sampson, a minor with cerebral palsy, were passengers in the ambulance and sustained injuries. Hicks and Sampson initially filed separate complaints, but the circuit court later consolidated the cases.

         ¶ 2 The City filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) there was a lack of evidence of willful and wanton conduct on the City's part and (2) Hicks's claim was time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations. Following the circuit court's judgment in favor of the City, the plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. Background

         ¶ 4 On November 11, 2015, Richard Palmer and Terry Sill, two paramedics employed by and in acting in their capacity as employees of the City, arrived at Sampson's guardian's home in Shiloh, Illinois, following a report of a seizure-like episode. It was determined that Sampson needed further care at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital (Cardinal Glennon) in St. Louis, Missouri. Sill drove the ambulance while Hicks, Sampson's uncle, sat in the passenger seat and Palmer rode in the back of the ambulance with Sampson. While driving westbound on Interstate 64 towards St. Louis, Sill lost control of the ambulance, struck wire barriers, hit water in a median, and ran off the road.[2]

         ¶ 5 On December 15, 2016, Hicks filed a complaint, alleging the City had negligently and carelessly (1) operated the ambulance at a speed greater than reasonable and proper with regard to traffic conditions and (2) failed to concentrate on driving, appreciate the road conditions, and keep a proper lookout.[3] As a result, Hicks suffered pain and injuries to his head, neck, and back, as well as muscle and tissue damage and trauma. Due to his injuries, Hicks incurred numerous medical expenses.

         ¶ 6 On January 24, 2017, the City filed a motion to dismiss Hicks's claim with prejudice. The City claimed that Hicks had failed to file his complaint before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations set forth in section 8-101(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/8-101(a) (West 2016)). Shortly thereafter, Hicks filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. The circuit court granted Hicks's motion and determined, without explanation, that the City's pending motion to dismiss was moot.

         ¶ 7 On March 20, 2017, Hicks filed an amended complaint, alleging the City's employee lost control of the ambulance, ran off the road, and struck a tree because the ambulance was traveling at an unsafe speed during heavy rainfall. Hicks also asserted that the "ambulance ride arose out of patient care to [Sampson]," and the City's employees provided patient care to Sampson during the transport to Cardinal Glennon. Hicks argued that the City's employees demonstrated an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for his and Sampson's safety, thus, violating the duty they owed the plaintiffs. As a direct and proximate cause of the accident, Hicks suffered injuries to his head, neck, and back, as well as tissue trauma and damage.

         ¶ 8 On April 13, 2017, the City filed a motion to dismiss Hicks's amended complaint. The City asserted that Hicks's claim was time-barred under section 8-101(a) of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/8-101(a) (West 2016)). The City argued that even though section 8-101(b) of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/8-101(b) (West 2016)) created a two-year statute of limitations exception, it was limited to injuries "arising out of patient care." According to the City, neither Hicks nor Sampson were patients of the City, and even if the term "patient" referred to persons being treated and transported by emergency personnel, Hicks's injuries did not arise out of patient care because he was not "the person receiving care" in the ambulance.

         ¶ 9 Following a hearing on the City's motion to dismiss, the circuit court directed the City to file a reply in support of its motion on or before June 23, 2017, which the City timely filed. The City argued that Hicks's argument had "absolutely no merit" because the Illinois General Assembly clearly delineated section 8-101(b) of the Tort Immunity Act to apply to patients receiving care in public hospitals, not to nonpatients riding in ambulances. Next, the City argued that Hicks, by his own admission, did not personally receive medical care at the time of the injury and was not injured as a result of negligent medical care. As such, the City asserted that the two-year statute of limitations period was inapplicable because Hicks's injuries resulted from a traffic accident.

         ¶ 10 On June 27, 2017, Hicks filed a response to the City's motion to dismiss. Hicks, relying on Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310, asserted that "[j]ust like it would be illogical to allow a third party a greater right of recovery than a patient as a result of the same occurrence, it would be illogical to allow a patient a greater right of recovery than a third party as a result of the same occurrence." Specifically, Hicks argued that the City was liable for his damages because his injuries occurred while the City's employee provided patient care to Sampson. That same day, the circuit court denied the City's motion to dismiss.

         ¶ 11 On July 10, 2017, the parties filed a joint motion for certified questions under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. July 1, 2017), requesting the circuit court certify the following questions for appellate review:

"a. Whether the term 'patient care' set forth in 745 ILCS 10/8-101(b) applies to individuals riding, but not receiving medical attention, in an ambulance owned and operated by a municipality.
b. Whether the term 'arising out of patient care' set forth in 745 ILCS 10/8-101(b) applies to situations where an individual is injured as the result of a traffic accident while riding, but not receiving medical attention, in an ambulance owned and operated by a municipality."

         ¶ 12 On July 17, 2017, the circuit court set a hearing for August 9, 2017, on the parties' joint motion for certified questions. The record does not contain the circuit ...


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