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N.J. Supreme Court Holds Rescue Squad Entities Subject To Civil Liability - Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, A-28-10

A 5-0 Court (with Presiding Appellate Division Judge Wefing, temporarily assigned and not participating, presmably because she wrote the Appellate Division decision which was reversed) finds that, "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."  Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, A-28-10, --- N.J. --- (2012).

In so holding, the unanimous Court's (with Justice Albin authoring the decision) syllabus appears as:

"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.

"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, EMTintermediates, 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.

"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.

"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."

Full text of the decision after the jump...