Immunity Statute Protects Rescue Squad Personnel, but Not the Rescue Squad as an Entity

Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad, 210 N.J. 581 (2012).  Plaintiffs’ son was shot in the chest by his brother.  The Plainfield Rescue Squad was called.  But there was allegedly a prolonged delay in transporting the victim to the hospital, and he died.  Though plaintiffs sued multiple defendants, the only issue that reached the Supreme Court was N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 immunized the Rescue Squad, as opposed to its personnel.  In an opinion by Justice Albin, a unanimous Court found, based on the plain language of the statute, that the Rescue Squad was not immunized.

Like many other opinions involving statutory interpretation, this one began with a recap of some basic principles.  The most important one, of course, is that if the plain language of the statute dictates a particular result, that ends the inquiry.  Justice Albin found that to be so here.

N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29 provides that “[n]o 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 squad, ambulance or rescue squad shall be liable for any civil damages as the result of an act or the omission of an act committed while in training for or in the rendering of intermediate life support services in good faith and in accordance with this act.”  That language immunizes “members” of a rescue squad but not the Squad itself.  This was in contrast to hospitals, as to which the statute protects both the hospital as an entity and its doctors, nurses and other individuals associated with the hospital.

Justice Albin noted that the Legislature “knows how to write an immunity statute covering both an entity and its individual members.”  He cited several examples of that, including N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-13, which does exactly that as to volunteer first aid squads and their members, and N.J.S.A. 26:2K-14, which immunizes both rescue squads and their members in connection with advanced life support services.  But the Legislature did not do that in N.J.S.A. 26:2K-29, relating to intermediate life support services.  The legislative history of the statute confirmed that the Rescue Squad was not insulated from liability.

Justice Albin concluded:  “The Squad would have us engraft onto the statute an immunity provision that the Legislature pointedly omitted.  That we cannot do.  We are charged with interpreting a statute; we have been given no commission to rewrite one….  If the failure to provide immunity to such rescue squads [in providing intermediate, as opposed to advanced, life support services] was an oversight, any corrective measure must be taken by the Legislature.”