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Talbot mother can sue ambulance firm for $30M

An appellate court has revived a mother’s $30 million claim that an ambulance company’s negligence caused her son to suffer permanent brain damage.

The Court of Special Appeals said a Talbot County judge had wrongly dismissed Karen Murray’s lawsuit against TransCare Maryland Inc. after concluding, erroneously, that the for-profit company could not be liable for damages because it had not charged her a fee.

State law protects municipal firefighter and rescue operators but not commercial ambulance services, regardless of whether a fee is charged, the unanimous three-judge appellate panel held.

Last week’s decision lets Murray pursue her claim that a TransCare paramedic failed to find an oxygen mask on a transport helicopter when her then-15-month-old son Bryson’s airway became blocked by a breathing tube. A mask was located only after the helicopter had made an emergency landing, by which time the lack of oxygen had caused brain damage, Murray alleges.

“This is a very serious case of injuries, horrendous injuries to a young child,” said Murray’s attorney, Stephen L. Snyder of Snyder & Snyder in Baltimore County. “He’ll now have an opportunity to have his case heard by a jury.”

Robert W. Goodson, TransCare’s lawyer, said his office “does not comment on cases that are in litigation.” He is with Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP in Washington, D.C.

The helicopter was owned and operated by another company, PHI Air Medical, which was contacted by the University of Maryland Medical Center to pick up Bryson Murray from a hospital in Easton and fly him there. A TransCare paramedic was on the transfer team that accompanied Bryson on the trip.

TransCare argued that the Maryland Fire and Rescue Act, which immunizes municipal rescue workers from liability, also applies to commercial ambulance companies. TransCare, which denies the negligence claim, also contended the state Good Samaritan Act’s immunity provision applied to the company because it had not charged Murray a fee.

Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Sidney S. Campen Jr. accepted those arguments in granting summary judgment for TransCare on Sept. 23, 2010.

But the Court of Special Appeals said the Good Samaritan statute, §5-603 of the Court and Judicial Proceedings Article, applies only to individuals, not companies. The court added the Fire and Rescue Act, CJP §5-604, applies only to firefighters and rescue providers, not to commercial ambulance companies.

“TransCare Maryland Inc., a private commercial ambulance company, is not a rescue company under [the Fire and Rescue Act] and, as such, appellees are not entitled to immunity under the act,” Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote for the Court of Special Appeals.

Murray had brought Bryson, gasping for breath, to Memorial Hospital at Easton’s emergency department at 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2007. Medical personnel inserted a breathing tube before having Bryson airlifted at 1:25 the next morning to the University of Maryland Medical System’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

When on-board personnel could not locate an oxygen mask, the pilot landed the helicopter at Bay Bridge Airport. The pilot retrieved the mask and resumed the transport, according to the lawsuit.

Murray filed a medical-malpractice suit on Feb. 6, 2009, in Baltimore City Circuit Court. TransCare had the case moved to Talbot County Circuit Court about four months later, arguing the alleged negligence occurred in that county and key witnesses live there.

Watts’ opinion was joined by Judges Christopher B. Kehoe and Melanie M. Shaw Geter, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge sitting by special assignment.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Murray v. TransCare Maryland Inc., CSA No. 1791 Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Opinion by Watts, J. Argued Dec. 2, 2011. Filed Feb. 9, 2012.

Issue:

Did the trial judge err in granting summary judgment in favor of a commercial ambulance company under the Good Samaritan Act and the Fire and Rescue Acts (CJP §§5-603 and 5-604)?

Holding:

Yes; reversed and remanded. Neither law applies to commercial ambulance companies.

Counsel:

Stephen L. Snyder for appellant; Robert W. Goodson for appellee.

RecordFax #12-0209-03.