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Monday, January 14, 2013

A-3282 Passes Assembly Health Committee with Bipartisan Support

A-3282 clarifies that first aid, ambulance or rescue squads, as entities, have immunity from civil damages in certain circumstances

While this may seem to be a routine legislative clarification, the catalyst case, Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, was eye-opening. 

In August 2004, a young man was shot by his own brother.  Alive and able to speak, his parents immediately called 911.  The Plainfield Rescue Squad arrived by ambulance and fruitlessly performed CPR; some believe that if he had instead been immediately transported to the hospital, Odis Murray would have had a 20 – 30 percent chance of survival. 

The Murrays decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit – not against their other son, Akeem Murray, who intentionally fired the shot that killed Odis – but against the Plainfield Rescue Squad

A lower court found that the because the Squad provided “intermediate life support services in good faith,” they were protected from civil liability under N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, also known as the Good Samaritan Act. 

The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed.  The spirit of the act was to protect volunteers acting in good faith from liability so as to not dissuade volunteer responders from helping in the first place.  While it specified who would be protected, it did not define ‘rescue squads’ clearly enough for the Court’s liking. 

“The Legislature chose to provide immunity to volunteer rescue squads and to rescue squads rendering advanced life support services,” wrote Justice Barry Albin in a unanimous decision.  “By the clear language of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, the Legislature chose not to provide immunity to rescue squads, as entities, rendering intermediate life support services.

“If the failure to provide immunity to such rescue squads was an oversight, any corrective measure must be taken by the Legislature.”

The Legislature took the first step toward clarifying the intent of the Act today.  Primary sponsors of A-3282 include Assemblymen Eric Peterson (R-Hunterdon), Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), and Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington).  Its companion bill, S-2165, is sponsored by Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) and has been referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.   

Click here for Assemblyman Conaway's statement.  

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Unfortunately the bill is still flawed. It lists Intermediate Life Support, which is not provided by any entity in New Jersey. BLS agencies (fire departments, volunteers, municipal squads, commercial providers) provide Basic Life Support. Paramedics from the hospitals provide Advanced Life Support. There used to be an Intermediate program in NJ, but it went away decades ago. I am afraid a judge could once again exclude the BLS agencies.

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