On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 418 N.J. Super. 571 (2011).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Albin
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized.)
Geraldine Murray and Odis E. Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad
Argued May 15, 2012 -- Decided July 17, 2012
ALBIN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.
In this appeal, the Court determines whether N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 provides immunity to the Plainfield Rescue Squad as an entity, regardless of any negligent delay in transporting a gunshot victim to a hospital.
Because summary judgment was entered against plaintiffs, on appeal the Court must give plaintiffs the benefit of all evidence and inferences in their favor. Viewed in that light, the facts are as follows. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. on August 4, 2004, Odis P. Murray was shot in the chest by his brother outside their home in Plainfield. Their parents, Geraldine and Odis E. Murray, went outside to investigate. They found their son lying in the street. He was able to speak and identified the shooter. Mrs. Murray immediately returned to her home and called 9-1-1. At 5:16 a.m., a Plainfield Rescue Squad ambulance arrived. It was staffed by two Emergency Medical Technicians-basics (EMT-basics) and a volunteer. The EMT-basics had authority, among other things, to assess vital signs, administer oxygen, manage cardiac emergencies, perform pulmonary and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and provide emergency treatment for chest injuries. According to the Squad members, Odis had no pulse and was unconscious, and they began giving him CPR. When Mrs. Murray asked why they were not transporting Odis to the hospital or intubating him, the Squad members looked at her "like a deer in headlights." A hospital was only minutes away. Eventually, at 5:47 a.m. -- more than thirty minutes after appearing at the scene -- the Squad members took Odis to the hospital, where personnel intubated him and attempted to insert an intravenous line. Odis had an active blood pressure. The bullet had perforated his aorta and severed his spinal cord. By 6:10 a.m., he was pronounced dead.
According to the report of the Murrays' expert, Dr. William L. Manion, the Rescue Squad members "wasted over 30 minutes" performing ineffective CPR, depriving Odis of "any chance of surviving his injury." Odis needed an immediate transport to the nearby emergency room, where a surgical trauma team could have opened his chest and taken him to the operating room for surgical repair. Had Odis been transported promptly, he would have had a twenty to thirty percent chance of surviving. Dr. Manion concluded that the Squad members engaged in "significant deviations" from usual standards of practice that were significant contributing factors to Odis's death.
Plaintiffs filed a wrongful-death/survival action against defendant Plainfield Rescue Squad and others. Ultimately, the trial court granted defendants' motions for summary judgment. With respect to the Rescue Squad, the trial court found immunity under both N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 and another statute. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment, determining that only N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 shielded the Squad from civil liability. Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, 418 N.J. Super. 574 (App. Div. 2011). The panel rejected plaintiffs' argument that this statute only applies to EMT-intermediates because EMT-basics are not specifically mentioned. The panel also concluded that the EMT-basics manning the Squad were rendering "intermediate life support services in good faith" as required by N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, and plaintiffs failed to show that the Squad members did not act in an objectively reasonable manner, even if they were arguably negligent in not transporting Odis promptly to the hospital. The Court granted certification limited to the issue whether the trial court erred in granting the Rescue Squad's motion for summary judgment based on statutory immunity under N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29. 207 N.J. 190 (2011).
HELD: Although N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 provides immunity to "officers and members" of a rescue squad for civil damages in rendering "intermediate life support services in good faith," the plain language of the statute does not provide immunity to a rescue squad as an entity. Thus, Plainfield Rescue Squad is subject to a civil suit for negligence based on the facts alleged by plaintiffs.
1. The objective of all statutory interpretation is to discern and effectuate the Legislature's intent. The Court begins by looking at the statute's plain language. The statutory words are viewed in context with related provisions so as to give sense to the legislation as a whole. If the Legislature's intent is clear on the face of the statute, then the Court must apply the law as written. (pp. 13-15)
2. N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 provides: "No EMT-intermediate, licensed physician, hospital or its board of trustees, officers and members of the medical staff, nurses or other employees of the hospital, or officers and members of a first aid, ambulance or rescue squad shall be liable for any civil damages as the result of" acts or omissions committed while providing "intermediate life support services in good faith." This statute distinguishes between entity liability and individual liability. It shields a "hospital" -- an entity -- and individuals, including hospital employees, EMT-intermediates, and "officers and members" of a rescue squad. The plain language of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 does not provide immunity to a rescue squad as an entity. (pp. 15-16)
3. The Legislature knows how to write an immunity statute covering both an entity and its individual members. For example, N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.7(b) immunizes an "emergency services or medical transport person or their respective employers" for certain conduct, and N.J.S.A. 52:17C-10(d) grants immunity to a "telephone company . . . or any employee, director, officer, or agent of any such entity" for provision of 9-1-1 services. In the case of volunteer squads, the Legislature specifically conferred immunity on the entity and the individuals: N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-13.1 provides immunity to a "volunteer first aid, rescue or emergency squad . . . which provides services for the control and extinguishment of fires or emergency public first aid and rescue services," while a companion statute immunizes the individual workers. Viewing N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 within the context of surrounding statutes also shows that the Legislature knows how to draft a law immunizing a rescue squad as an entity. N.J.S.A. 26:2K-14, enacted approximately one year before N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, states that "no . . . first aid, ambulance or rescue squad, or officers and members of a rescue squad, shall be liable" for civil damages resulting from acts or omissions committed while providing "advanced life support services in good faith." The Legislature evidently intended to shield rescue squads rendering advanced life support services, but not rescue squads rendering intermediate life support services. The legislative history of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 drives home this point. Initial versions of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 contained language similar to N.J.S.A. 26:2K-14, to immunize both rescue squads and their members, but the Legislature rejected that language and enacted the legislation as it appears today. (pp. 16-20)
4. The Rescue Squad urges the Court, as a matter of public policy, to read the statute as providing immunity to it. The Court cannot engraft onto the statue an immunity provision that the Legislature pointedly omitted. The Court is charged with interpreting a statute, not rewriting one. The public policy of the Legislature is expressed in the language of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29. The Legislature chose to provide immunity to volunteer rescue squads, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-13.1, and to rescue squads rendering advanced life support services, N.J.S.A. 26:2K-14. By the clear language of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, the Legislature chose not to provide immunity to rescue squads, as entities, rendering intermediate life support services. If the failure to provide immunity to such rescue squads was an oversight, any corrective measure must be taken by the Legislature. (p. 20)
The judgment of the Appellate Division affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Rescue Squad is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court for proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.
CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, HOENS, and PATTERSON join in JUSTICE ALBIN's opinion. JUDGE WEFING (temporarily assigned) did not participate.
JUSTICE ALBIN delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this wrongful-death/survival action, the Plainfield Rescue Squad is alleged to have unreasonably -- and therefore negligently -- delayed the transport of a gunshot victim to a nearby hospital, thereby causing his death. The individual members of the Rescue Squad are not the subject of the civil suit. The only issue before this Court is whether N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 provides immunity to the Rescue Squad as an entity, regardless of any negligent delay in transporting the victim. The trial court found that the Rescue Squad was statutorily immune from suit and therefore entered summary judgment in favor of the Rescue Squad. The Appellate Division affirmed.
We now reverse the dismissal of the wrongful-death/survival claims against the Rescue Squad. Although N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 states that the "officers and members" of a rescue squad shall not be liable for civil damages in rendering "intermediate life support services in good faith" to a patient, the statute provides no similar immunity to a rescue squad as an entity. A plain-language reading of N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 leads to the conclusion that on the summary-judgment record before us, the Plainfield Rescue Squad is subject to a civil suit for negligence. Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to bring this case before a jury. We therefore reinstate the complaint against the Squad and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.
We begin with our standard of review. In construing the meaning of a statute, our review is de novo. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995). We need not defer to the trial court or Appellate Division's interpretative conclusions -- particularly if they are mistaken. Zabilowicz v. Kelsey, 200 N.J. 507, 512-13 (2009). In determining whether summary judgment was properly granted, we apply the same standard governing the trial court -- we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Henry v. N.J. Dep't of Human Servs., 204 N.J. 320, 330 (2010); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 523 (1995); see also R. 4:46-2(c). The facts in this case are hotly disputed. However, it is not our charge to resolve material facts disputed by the parties; that is a matter for a jury. Because the trial court entered summary judgment ...