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Pallister v. Spotswood First Aid Squad

November 22, 2002

CORI PALLISTER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SPOTSWOOD FIRST AID SQUAD AND ROBERT S. WARD, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-11508-98.

Before Judges Stern, Coburn and Alley.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued November 6, 2002

Plaintiff appeals from an order of October 26, 2001, granting summary judgment and dismissing her complaint as barred under the Tort Claims Act ("TCA"), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. She contends that "the Spotswood Volunteer First Aid Squad is not a public entity subject to the New Jersey Tort Claim[s] Act" and that "plaintiff is entitled to have the nature and extent of her injuries evaluated by a jury to a[ss]ess damages without a threshold being considered." Plaintiff, who was being transported to a hospital as a result of an emergency call, was riding in defendant Spotswood First Aid Squad's ambulance, driven by defendant Robert Ward, when it hit a parked car. It is uncontested that she did not suffer an injury which was "substantial," see Gilhooley v. County of Union, 164 N.J. 533 (2000); Brooks v. Odom, 150 N.J. 395 (1997), and that the complaint must, therefore, be dismissed if the TCA applies and, consequently, its threshold must be satisfied.

Plaintiff claims that she does not have to satisfy the threshold under the TCA because the voluntary first aid squad is not a "public entity." She contends that the role and nature of a first aid squad is different from a voluntary fire company and other entities which have been held to be protected by the TCA. She specifically asserts:

The services provided by first-aiders are more analogous to those practiced by the various charitable organizations that provide for help, aid and assistance in case of need without governmental involvement or control.

Prior to adoption of the TCA, the Legislature adopted N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-12 which, after an immaterial amendment in 1977, now provides:

No member of a volunteer first aid, rescue or emergency squad, or volunteer member of the National Ski Patrol System, which provides emergency public first aid and rescue services shall be liable in any civil action to respond in damages as a result of his acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of his rendering in good faith any such services as such member but such immunity from liability shall not extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with such services.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to grant any such immunity to any person causing damage by his willful or wanton act of commission or omission.

In 1963, the Legislature adopted a companion statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-13, which now reads:

No member of a volunteer fire company, which provides emergency public first aid and rescue services or services for the control and extinguishment of fires, or both, and no authorized active volunteer first aid or rescue squad worker who is not a member of the volunteer fire company within which the first aid or rescue squad may have been created, doing public first aid or rescue duty, shall be liable in any civil action to respond in damages as a result of his acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of his rendering in good faith any such services, or arising out of and in the course of participation in any authorized drill, but such immunity from liability shall not extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with the rendering of any such services.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to grant any such immunity to any person causing damage by his willful or wanton act of commission or omission. *fn1 After adoption of the TCA in 1972, the Legislature adopted

N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-13.1 which gave any "volunteer first aid, rescue or emergency squad" and "volunteer fire company" the same immunity as their members. L. 1975, c. 196, ' 1, as amended by L. 1983, c. 29, ' 2, ...


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