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Bailey v. City of St. Paul

May 03, 2004

TIMOTHY G. BAILEY, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE NEXT-OF-KIN OF VIRGINIA BAILEY, RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF ST. PAUL, ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Ramsey County District Court File No. C0-02-6384

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Wright, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Official immunity applies to the conduct of government-employed ambulance crews providing emergency medical care in the performance of their official duties, and vicarious official immunity protects their government employers.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge

Reversed

OPINION

The trustee for the next-of-kin of a woman who died after receiving emergency medical care from a St. Paul Department of Fire and Safety Services ambulance crew sued the city for wrongful death, claiming that the ambulance crew negligently treated the woman. The city moved for summary judgment, arguing that the acts of the ambulance crew are subject to official immunity and, therefore, the city is protected by vicarious official immunity. The district court denied the motion, holding that the ambulance crew's acts were ministerial, rather than discretionary, and, therefore, official immunity does not apply. We reverse.

FACTS

On December 18, 2000, 73-year-old Virginia Bailey collapsed while shoveling snow outside of her St. Paul home. Her son called 911 at 4:50 p.m., and, within minutes, an ambulance unit of the St. Paul Department of Fire and Safety Services arrived and found Bailey unconscious. The ambulance crew noticed that Bailey was not breathing properly and determined that she needed to be intubated. The crew put Bailey in the ambulance and on their first attempt to intubate her they inadvertently placed the tube in Bailey's esophagus rather than in her trachea. Observations that they made after their second attempt led them to believe that Bailey was properly intubated, and they departed for Regions Medical Center.

En route to the hospital, Bailey's condition worsened and she began to show signs of the presence of subcutaneous air. The ambulance arrived at the Regions emergency room at 5:16 p.m. Attempts by the Regions emergency-room staff to resuscitate Bailey were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead at 5:37 p.m. The results of an autopsy suggested that Bailey had been intubated in her esophagus rather than in her trachea, causing air to accumulate in her stomach, which contributed to her death.

Virginia Bailey's son, respondent Timothy Bailey, was appointed trustee for Virginia Bailey's next-of-kin. In September 2002, he brought a wrongful-death action against the City of St. Paul and its Fire and Safety Services Department (hereafter generally referred to collectively as "the city"). The suit alleges that the ambulance crew was negligent in (1) failing to recognize an incorrect intubation; (2) failing to properly intubate Virginia Bailey; and (3) failing to provide a safe airway for Virginia Bailey. The suit also alleges that the city is vicariously liable for the ambulance crew's negligence.

In June 2003, the city moved for summary judgment, claiming that the ambulance crew was engaged in discretionary conduct protected by official immunity and that the city, therefore, is protected by vicarious official immunity. Respondent opposed the motion, arguing that official immunity does not apply to the negligent administration of medical care and that, because the Fire and Safety Services Department has a written protocol describing when and how an ambulance crew should intubate a patient, the conduct that respondent challenges was ministerial, rather than discretionary. The district court denied the city's motion, concluding that the ambulance crew's allegedly negligent acts were ministerial and that, therefore, official immunity does not apply to the crew and vicarious official immunity is not available to the city. The city appeals.

ISSUE

Does official immunity apply to emergency medical care provided by government-employed ambulance crews in the ...


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