ESTATE OF HEANUE EX REL. HEANUE v. EDGCOMB No. 2-03-1297.
823 N.E.2d 1123 (2005)
355 Ill. App.3d 645
291 Ill.Dec. 537
The ESTATE OF Debra A. HEANUE, Deceased, by and through Thomas A. HEANUE, Jr., Administrator, and Thomas A. Heanue, Jr., Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Leslie EDGCOMB, Defendant-Appellee.
Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.
February 8, 2005.
Karen L. Kendall, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Peoria, Douglas J. Pomatto, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Rockford, for Leslie Edgcomb.
Justice GROMETER delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiffs, Thomas A. Heanue, Jr., and the estate of Debra A. Heanue, appeal an order of the circuit court of Winnebago County dismissing their complaint against defendant, Leslie Edgcomb, pursuant to section 2-619 of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2002)). The complaint alleged medical negligence. The trial court found that defendant was immune under section 25 of the Good Samaritan Act (Act) (745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002)). Plaintiffs also appeal the denial of their motion to reconsider, in which they asserted that they should have been allowed to conduct discovery prior to the dismissal of the case. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.
The following facts are taken from plaintiffs' complaint and supporting documents submitted by the parties. On June 6, 2001, Debra Heanue underwent an "elective IJ dialysis catheter insertion" and was then taken to the recovery room at Swedish American Hospital. The procedure was performed by Dr. Marc Whitman, who is a partner of defendant in Rockford Surgical Service, S.C. (Rockford Surgical). Following the completion of the procedure, Whitman was not available. A nurse, who observed that medication given to Debra was not working properly, attempted to page Whitman and then contacted Rockford Surgical. The nurse told personnel at Rockford Surgical to send a doctor over immediately. Subsequently, defendant entered the recovery room and took over treatment of Debra.
Plaintiffs brought this action, alleging negligence in defendant's treatment of Debra. In response, defendant immediately moved to dismiss, asserting that section 25 of the Act (745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002)) provided him with immunity. This section provides:
In support of his motion, defendant submitted an affidavit averring that he is a member of Rockford Surgical and was functioning in that capacity when he rendered care to Debra; that she was not his patient but he was asked to attend to her; and that he did not charge a fee for the care he provided to her. Additionally, defendant submitted a copy of Debra's patient account, which shows no charge for his services.
The trial court granted defendant's motion. It held that the only evidence before it was that defendant responded to an emergency situation and that he provided care in good faith and without a fee. The trial court acknowledged that defendant's
Plaintiffs now appeal. They argue that the trial court erred both in granting defendant's section 2-619 motion and in denying their motion to reconsider. We will address the motion to dismiss first.
Review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2002)) is de novo. Compton v. Ubilluz,
Section 25 of the Act (745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002)), as amended in 1998, has been construed to require a doctor seeking to invoke its protection to prove: (1) that he or she provided emergency care and (2) that he or she did not charge a fee (the earlier requirement that the doctor had no notice of the injury was eliminated in 1998). See Somoye v. Klein,
Plaintiffs argue that defendant is not entitled to immunity under section 25 of the Act. Their arguments fall into two main categories. First, they argue that defendant had a preexisting duty to treat Debra. In support, they rely upon the inference, which we agree is legitimately raised from the record, that defendant treated Debra at the request of Rockford Surgical. Moreover, they assert that defendant was acting as a compensated agent of Rockford Surgical. They contend that defendant had an independent duty to provide care to a patient of his practice, and they assert that Debra was a patient of the medical group to which defendant belonged.
We find this, and all other similar arguments, foreclosed by the recent case of Neal v. Yang,
Plaintiffs' second argument is directed to the issue of whether a fee was charged. Plaintiffs contend that defendant did not provide medical services "without fee" as contemplated by the Act. See 745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002). Plaintiffs note that Rockford Surgical charged thousands of dollars for the services provided to Debra. They reason that, as a member of Rockford Surgical, defendant benefitted financially from its relationship with Debra. The documentation submitted by defendant in support of his motion to dismiss, plaintiffs point out, indicates that Rockford Surgical did bill Debra for services provided to her on August 14, 2001. Plaintiffs also argue that defendant was protecting the interest of his principal when he went to provide care to Debra on June 6, 2001. We will accept, for the purpose of resolving this appeal, that defendant benefitted financially from Rockford Surgical doing business with Debra. We nevertheless conclude that this financial relationship does not constitute charging a fee for services as contemplated by the Act.
Plaintiffs aptly frame the issue in a passage of their brief where they attack defendant's affidavit on the ground that, while it states that he did not bill for his services, it does not state that he was not compensated for the treatment that was provided to Debra. In other words, is the fact that defendant benefitted financially from his relationship with Rockford Surgical, which benefitted from conducting business with Debra, sufficient to remove the protection that section 25 provides him as a doctor rendering emergency care?
To answer this question, we are confronted with an issue of statutory construction. The relevant portion of section 25 states that it applies to a physician who "provides emergency care without fee." 745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002). Thus, we must consider whether the fact that some economic benefits flowed to defendant through Rockford Surgical means that defendant received a fee as contemplated by the legislature in section 25. Our primary goal in construing a statute, of course, is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Beetle v. Wal-Mart Associates, Inc.,
One common source defines "fee" as "compensation often in the form of a fixed charge for professional service or for special and requested exercise of talent or of skill." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 833 (2002). Similarly, Black's Law Dictionary states that a "fee" is "[a] charge for labor or services, esp. professional services." Black's Law Dictionary 629 (7th ed.1999). These definitions do not encompass all relationships where some financial benefit flows to an individual; rather, they envision a very specific sort of
The legislature could have easily said that the immunity conferred by section 25 is available to those who provide emergency care without deriving any economic benefits, but it did not. It specifically chose the term "fee." See 745 ILCS 49/25 (West 2002). To accept plaintiffs' argument would be to impose a limitation on the operation of section 25 that the legislature did not express. We are powerless to limit the scope of a statute in this manner. County of Lake v. Board of Education of Lake Bluff School District No. 65, Lake County,
As such, while there may indeed be a question of fact as to whether defendant derived some economic benefit from Debra's relationship with Rockford Surgical, the question is not material. Even if plaintiffs were able to establish this proposition, defendant would be immune under section 25 because, as shown by the record, he did not charge a fee as contemplated by the legislature. Therefore, this challenge to the trial court's grant of the motion to dismiss must fail.
Plaintiffs warn that our interpretation could lead to an absurd result. They assert that any doctor providing emergency care could avoid liability simply by omitting from an itemized bill any specific charge for the doctor's services. Statutes, of course, must be construed to avoid absurd results. People v. Kucharski,
It is at this point that the existence of a preexisting duty may be relevant. While Neal explicitly holds that a physician need not prove the absence of a preexisting duty to a patient in order for the Act to apply (Neal, 352 Ill.App.3d at 829,
The record in this case allows an inference that the reason no bill was sent for the emergency care was that defendant sought to trigger the Act. The deceased was billed for treatment prior to the emergency and for treatment following the emergency on the same day. These bills include time for the services of defendant. Typically, a preexisting duty to treat means there is a corresponding duty to pay for the treatment, which, again typically, leads to a bill. If preexisting duty is relevant to a determination of why a patient was not billed, then it is relevant to a determination whether, in bad faith, a patient was not billed in order to trigger the Act.
We do recognize that the issue of good faith relative to a doctor's actions and immunity under section 25 has been largely unaddressed to this point. In fact, many recent cases simply state that a doctor must show three things — lack of prior notice, no charge of a fee, and an emergency situation — to invoke the protection of the section 25. See, e.g., Somoye, 349 Ill. App.3d at 213,
We will now turn our attention to plaintiffs' motion to reconsider. The disposition of a motion to reconsider lies within the discretion of the trial court, and a court of review will not disturb a trial court's decision absent an abuse of that discretion. Williams v. Covenant Medical Center,
Additionally, plaintiffs apparently did not seek discovery until after the trial court ruled on the motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs do not explain why their request for discovery came so late. Under such circumstances, we cannot find that the trial court abused its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion to reconsider. See Gardner v. Navistar International Transportation Corp.,
While the trial court's and the parties' failure to address the issue of good faith is understandable, the issue could be relevant in this case. The judgment of the circuit court of Winnebago County is therefore
Reversed and remanded.
O'MALLEY, P.J., and CALLUM, J., concur.
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