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Summary Judgment Based on Maryland Good Samaritan and Immunity Statutes Upheld

October 16, 2020

By James S. Liskow

In Coit v. Nappi, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling granting summary judgment in favor of an ambulance company in Plaintiff’s wrongful death and survival action. 2020 Md. App. LEXIS 949 (October 1, 2020).  Plaintiff’s decedent died of an acute asthma attack. His personal representative brought suit against the EMTs who responded to a 9-1-1 call prior to his death as well as their employer, Baltimore County. Plaintiff alleged that the EMTs’ delayed response time to the 9-1-1 call caused the decedent’s death.

In affirming, the Court of Special Appeals held that the Circuit Court was correct in finding that Maryland’s Good Samaritan Act, as well as the statutory immunity enjoyed by fire & rescue companies, immunized the Defendants. Maryland’s Good Samaritan Act applies to individuals licensed by Maryland to provide medical care. The Act also applies to members of any State, county, municipal, or volunteer fire department, ambulance and rescue squad, or law enforcement agency, etc. that is licensed in first aid by the Red Cross or an equivalent program, is licensed by the state as an emergency medical services provider, or is licensed to and is administering approved treatments for drug overdoses. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §5-603(b). The Act prevents the above referenced parties from being held civilly liable for any actions which were: 1) not grossly negligent; 2) considered to be medical care or assistance and were provided without a fee or other compensation; or 3) considered to be medical care or assistance that was provided at the scene of the emergency, in transit to a medical facility, or through communications with personnel providing emergency assistance. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §5-603(a).

The Court held that such immunity applied absent a showing of willful or grossly negligent conduct by the Defendants. In regard to Plaintiff’s claim that the Defendants’ actions amounted to willful or gross negligence, the Court of Special Appeals upheld that Circuit Court’s reasoning that such conduct requires a higher evidentiary showing than simple negligence. Such conduct must not only be proven but must also be pled by the Plaintiff with particularity. Plaintiff argued that Defendants’ actions were willful or grossly negligent based on: 1) their delay in responding to the scene, which they argued showed a lack of urgency; and 2) the manner in which the Defendants assessed and treated the decedent. The Court of Special Appeals upheld the Circuit Court’s decision to address each allegation separately. The Court found that there was simply no evidence that the Defendants acted willfully or in a grossly negligent manner. Even though the Defendant EMTs were delayed in arriving to treat the decedent and administered Narcan, when there was no evidence of an Opioid overdose, the Court found that such conduct did not amount to willful or gross negligence.

The Court of Special Appeals also upheld the Circuit Court’s conclusion that Plaintiff failed to establish any evidence causally relating the Defendants’ conduct to the decedent’s death. While there was evidence presented regarding to the standard of care for EMTs, the Plaintiff failed to establish a causal link between the Defendant EMTs’ delay in responding to the scene and the decedent’s death. Plainly, the Plaintiff did not prove that the decedent would have survived had the Defendant EMTs not delayed in arriving at the scene of the emergency. Further, the Court noted that even had there been evidence to support a finding of willful or grossly negligent conduct by Defendants, the lack of causation evidence was fatal to the Plaintiff’s case.

The Court of Special Appeals also ruled that Defendant Baltimore County was immune from suit. Plaintiff advocated that the County should have had a delayed-response policy, requiring the 9-1-1 operator to advise that the response time to the emergency would be delayed and that the Plaintiff should have driven the decedent to the hospital. The Court did not directly address the governmental immunity enjoyed by the County, but instead rejected the Plaintiff’s argument, holding that there was no evidence that such a policy would have resulted in a different outcome. Again, Plaintiff lacked any causal link between the County’s lack of a delayed-response policy and the decedent’s death.

The big take-away from this case is that Maryland Courts are stringent in their requirements for nullifying any immunity under the Maryland Good Samaritan Act. Plaintiffs must be specific in their pleadings and provide ample proof of a medical provider’s gross or willful negligence as well as proof demonstrating a strong causal connection between the medical provider’s action and the alleged harm. Without specific pleadings and strong proof of the above, Maryland Courts will usually hold that a medical provider as described in Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §5-603(b) is immune from civil liability under the Good Samaritan Act.