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159205 - Caleb Griffin v Swartz Ambulance Service

Caleb Griffin,

 

Mark Bendure

 

Plaintiff-Appellant,

 

v

(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)

 

 

(Genesee – Farah, J.)

 

Swartz Ambulance Service,

 

Aaron Caffrey

 

Defendant-Appellee,

 

and

 

 

Sarah Elizabeth Aurand,

Defendant.

 

Summary

            ​Plaintiff Caleb Griffin was involved in a rollover accident that injured his leg, including dislocating his knee.  As he was being transported to the hospital in an ambulance provided by defendant Swartz Ambulance Service, the ambulance driver struck another vehicle.  At the time of the collision, the ambulance was exiting the highway and the driver was not operating the siren or flashing lights.  A second ambulance then transported plaintiff to the hospital, where his leg had to be amputated. 

             Plaintiff sued Swartz Ambulance Service, alleging that Swartz’s employee, Mary Shifter, a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) and the driver of the ambulance, was grossly negligent in causing the second accident.  Plaintiff further alleges that the delay in treatment led to the amputation of his leg.  Defendant Swartz filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s lawsuit under a provision of the Emergency Medical Services Act (EMSA), MCL 333.20965(1), which establishes immunity for EMTs and other medical first responders who provide services “in the treatment of a patient,” except in cases where there is a showing of gross negligence or willful misconduct.  Defendant argued that plaintiff’s allegations and evidence established, at most, that Shifter’s conduct was ordinary negligence; therefore, it was immune from liability under the EMSA.  Plaintiff countered that immunity under the EMSA only limits liability “in the treatment of a patient,” and that the word “treatment” in this context does not include the operation of an ambulance.  The circuit court agreed with defendant Swartz and dismissed plaintiff’s lawsuit. 

             Plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 split decision.  The majority applied the definition of “treatment” from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) as including the handling of a patient in an ambulance or techniques customarily applied when caring for ambulance patients, consistent with the training of first responders.  The majority concluded that the statutory term “treatment” was not limited to “medical services,” and that defendant Swartz was entitled to immunity from Shifter’s allegedly negligent driving.  The dissenting judge did not disagree with the majority’s approach, but relied instead on a different dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary (2d ed), to define “treatment” as “[m]anagement in the application of remedies; medical or surgical application or service.”  Applying this definition, the dissenting judge determined that the act of transportation was not “treatment” under the statute and Swartz was not entitled to immunity. 

            Plaintiff then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which ordered oral argument on the application to address whether the operation of the ambulance in this case by defendant Swartz’s employee constitutes an “act[] . . . in the treatment of a patient” within the meaning of MCL 333.20965(1).