Appeal from the Order dated March 2, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD 86-842.
James D. Belliveau, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Maria Zulick, Philadelphia, for Schleifer Ambulance, appellee.
Rowley, Del Sole and Montgomery, JJ.
[ 383 Pa. Super. Page 101]
This is an appeal from an order granting a motion for summary judgment on the basis of statutory immunity. We reverse.
Appellant suffered a fractured skull when he jumped through rear doors of the moving ambulance that was transporting him from Braddock General Hospital to Woodville State Hospital. He had been seated in a rear seat of the vehicle with his seat belt fastened; another patient, restrained on a stretcher, and an ambulance attendant were also in the rear section of the vehicle. The attendant's deposition testimony was that Appellant had unfastened his seat belt in order to make it possible for the attendant to re-position himself near the other patient who was experiencing some distress. Before the attendant was able to block his efforts, Appellant slid along the side bench seat, unlocked the rear doors and jumped from the ambulance. Appellant was being transferred to Woodville for court-ordered involuntary treatment pursuant to The Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 Pa. S.A. § 7304. Section 7304 provides that application for such court-ordered treatment may be made for a person who is severely mentally disabled
[ 383 Pa. Super. Page 102]
and in need of treatment. In order to be subject to treatment under this section, a determination must be made that the patient presents a clear and present danger of serious bodily harm to others, inability to care for himself, creating a danger of death or serious harm to himself, attempted suicide, or self-mutilation.
Appellee/Ambulance Service filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted on the basis of immunity from liability under § 7114 of the MHPA. Appellee argues that the trial court properly granted the motion for summary judgment because one of the conditions which makes it possible to obtain immunity (participating in the decision to reduce the restraints on the person being treated under the MHPA) was satisfied in the present factual setting. Section 7114(a) of the MHPA states:
In the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence, a county administrator, a director of a facility, a physician, a peace officer or any authorized person who participates in a decision that a person be examined or treated under this act, or that a person be discharged, or placed under partial hospitalization, outpatient care or leave of absence, or that the restraint upon such person be otherwise reduced, or a county administrator or other authorized person who denies an application for voluntary treatment or for involuntary emergency examination and treatment, shall not be civilly or criminally liable for such decision or for any of its consequences.
Appellee contends that the ambulance attendants were "authorized persons" who come within the ambit of the statute. We disagree. While there is a dearth of case law on the issue of immunity under § 7114, the cases which we have found, in conjunction with the language of the statute itself, convince us that immunity from liability for an ambulance service was not within the contemplation of the legislature when it enacted § 7114 of the statute.
Section 7102 of the MHPA discusses the policy and purpose of the Act. This policy is to "seek to assure the availability of adequate ...