Monday, February 25, 2008
Court: EMTs Entitled to Protections Under MICRA
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
An emergency medical technician was entitled to protection under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act in an action against him by a police officer injured while riding in an ambulance the technician was driving, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Eight held that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor H. Person, who has since retired, did not err when he ruled that Randy Canister’s action against the EMT’s employer, Emergency Ambulance Service, was subject to MICRA. The judge allowed the company to introduce evidence that Canister’s medical expenses and lost earnings were paid by a collateral source, holding that EMTs are health care providers protected by MICRA, and any negligent conduct by them in the course of operating an ambulance constitutes professional negligence.
Canister, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, was accompanying an arrestee in the back of an ambulance when it hit a curb, injuring Canister. He was not wearing a seatbelt at the time.
Two EAS employees—both of whom were licensed EMTs—were present at the time of the incident and acting in the course and scope of their employment. One drove the ambulance, while the other attended to the arrestee in the rear with Canister.
Canister filed suit, alleging that that the ambulance was being driven negligently and that neither employee had informed him that seatbelts were available in the rear of the ambulance.
Based on those facts, Person ruled that Canister’s action was subject to the provisions of MICRA and permitted EAS to introduce evidence under Civil Code Sec. 3333.1 that Canister’s medical expenses and lost earnings were paid by a collateral source.
At trial, the parties introduced conflicting evidence regarding whether Canister knew or should have known that seatbelts were available in the back of the ambulance, and whether the EMTs were negligent in operating the ambulance.
The jury found that EAS was not negligent, and Canister appealed, arguing that Person had erred in ruling that the action was subject to MICRA limitations. Canister contended that allowing EAS to admit evidence showing that his medical bills and lost earnings had already been paid prejudiced the jury, denying him a fair assessment of liability.
Sec. 3333.1(a) provides that a defendant “in an action for personal injury against a health care provider based upon professional negligence…may introduce evidence of any amounts payable to the plaintiff under” relevant insurance policies or similar benefit plans.
Canister argued that that this section did not apply because the EMT at the wheel was not a “health care provider,” and because the emergency medical technician’s negligence was not “professional negligence.”
However, in an opinion by Justice Madeleine Flier, the Court of Appeal upheld rejected Canister’s argument, concluding that EMTs are healthcare providers, and that any negligence by EMTs in driving an ambulance constitutes professional negligence.
“The services that EMTs provide to patients are ‘inextricably identified’ with the health of patients,” Flier wrote, “and an ambulance company vicariously assumes the same standing with such patients through its licensed employees.”
Flier similarly rejected Canister’s argument that an EMTs “professional services” extend only to those which the EMT is licensed, and that EMTs are only licensed to provide medical services, such as basic life support and providing CPR.
“EMTs are licensed to provide transport to patients,” she wrote, “and, in any case, the term ‘professional services’ encompasses more than the distinct services that a health care provider is licensed to perform…. An EMTs operation of an ambulance qualifies as professional negligence when the EMT is rendering services for which he or she is licensed or when a claim for damages is directly related to the provision of ambulance services by the EMT.”
Determining, as a result, that the action fell within the provisions of MICRA, Flier concluded that it was proper for EAS to introduce, and for the trial court to permit, evidence of the collateral source payments made to Canister.
Justice Candace Cooper and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann H. Egerton, sitting by assignment, joined Flier in her opinion.
The case is Canister v. Emergency Health Service, 08 S.O.S. 1228.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company