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June 16, 2014

Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Negligence Claim Against Municipality Providing Emergency Medical Services

New York's Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Firm client the City of Syracuse in an action arising out of claimed negligence in the provision of emergency medical services. Angona v. City of Syracuse, Docket No. CA 13-01664 (4th Dep't June 13, 2014). The Plaintiff was a firefighter who was out of work on medical leave for an unrelated issue when he suffered a massive heart attack in a local bar. The City's Fire Department, which provided emergency medical services in response to 911 calls, was dispatched. While at the scene, a portable defibrillator and the electrode pads being used to attend to the Plaintiff allegedly malfunctioned. By the time a connection to a second defibrillator was made, it is alleged that the Plaintiff suffered severe brain damage. A lawsuit was brought against the City as well as the manufacturer and distributors of the defibrillator and pads. Following discovery, the City moved for summary judgment based upon the governmental function doctrine. In the first of its two successful summary judgment motions granted by the Onondaga County Supreme Court, all claims relating to the equipment were dismissed upon the determination that the claimed negligent acts (failure to inspect equipment and properly supply the rescue truck) were "ministerial" in nature and there was no showing of the required special relationship between the Plaintiff and the City. The second summary judgment motion successfully disposed of the medical treatment claim based upon a new court decision from the New York Court of Appeals holding that these claims were not proprietary and subject to normal negligence rules. In the absence of a special relationship (and none could be established because the unconscious Plaintiff could not justifiably rely upon any representations from the first responders), municipal liability could not attach. The Fourth Department affirmed in all respects. The decision is important to municipalities providing emergency medical services in response to 911 calls because it reaffirms the principle that in the absence of a special relationship between the injured party and the municipality, there is no liability for the claimed negligent performance of governmental functions. The text of the decision can be found here.

If you require further information regarding the content of this Legal Alert, please contact Thomas B. Cronmiller, Chair of the Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area at (585) 295-4424 or tcronmiller@hblaw.com.

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