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Monday, June 25, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Annette Donica Giles v. Brown County, Indiana, By and Through Its Board of Commissioners, a 6-page, 4-1 opinion, in which oral arguments were heard over a year ago, on June 9, 2006, Justice Sullivan writes:

Joey Giles, a Brown County resident, called 911 to request an ambulance when he ex-perienced chest pains and shortness of breath at his home. The enhanced emergency communi-cation system (“E-911”) forwarded his request to Columbus Regional Hospital’s ambulance ser-vice. No ambulance reserved for Brown County use was available at Columbus Regional Hospital, so Columbus Regional Hospital instead contacted Bloomington Hospital and asked it to dispatch an ambulance. In the meantime, Joey contacted his wife, Annette Donica Giles (“Giles”). Giles returned home to find Joey attended by two volunteer firemen. The ambulance from Bloomington Hospital arrived 45 minutes later. Joey died shortly thereafter.

As Joey’s surviving spouse and the representative of his estate, Giles sued Brown County, by and through its Board of Commissioners, Columbus Regional Hospital, and Joey’s former health care providers. Giles alleged that Brown County and Columbus Regional Hospital had negligently failed to provide requested medical services, thereby causing Joey’s death. Brown County sought summary judgment solely on the basis that it was immune under the Indi-ana Tort Claims Act (“ITCA”), because Joey’s death resulted from the “operation” or “use” of an enhanced emergency communications system. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-3(19) (Supp. 2001). The trial court granted summary judgment to Brown County on grounds of immunity. A panel of the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded over the dissent of Judge Sharpnack. Giles v. Brown County, 839 N.E.2d 1258 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005). Brown County sought, and we granted, transfer. Giles v. Brown County, 855 N.E.2d 1007 (Ind. 2006) (table). (No claim related to Columbus Regional Hospital or Joey’s former health care providers is before us in this appeal.) * * *

Brown County sought immunity under the ITCA on grounds that Joey’s death resulted from the “operation” or “use” of an enhanced emer-gency communications system. I.C. § 34-13-3-3(19). There is little we can do to improve upon the immunity analysis by Judge Sharpnack in the Court of Appeals in this case and so we adopt his dissent. * * *

Shepard, C.J., and Boehm and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Dickson, J., dissents with separate opinion:

This is an appeal from the grant of summary judgment based solely on the trial court's conclusion that Brown County is afforded immunity under Indiana Code § 34-13-3-3(19) from liability for losses from the operation of an enhanced 911 system. As to this issue, the majority summarily adopts the analysis in Judge Sharpnack's dissent in the Court of Appeals. I disagree.

The immunity as crafted by the statute applies to a loss that "results from" the operation or use of "an enhanced emergency communication system." Ind. Code § 34-13-3-3(19). As noted in the majority opinion, the parties agree that the enhanced emergency communication system "worked flawlessly." The plaintiff's claim is not for a loss that resulted from the failure of this communication system, but rather for a loss that separately resulted from the decision not to send an available ambulance due to the ambulance service's separate obligations favoring the Columbus Fire Department. The statutory immunity, in derogation of common law, must be strictly construed against limitations on the right to bring an action. Hinshaw v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Jay County, 611 N.E.2d 637, 639 (Ind. 1993). I favor the analysis of the Court of Appeals majority, which declined to expand the statutory emergency communication system immunity to include the subsequent dispatching decision that resulted in the alleged loss. This assertion is made in the plaintiff's tort claim notice, one of the documents included in the defendant's summary judgment submissions. [emphasis added by ILB]

Here is the Dec. 30, 2005 Court of Appeals opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 25, 2007 01:30 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions