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Nonprofit ambulance service not entitled to ITCA protections

December 23, 2015

The volunteer emergency ambulance service provider in Sharpsville is not entitled to the protections of the Indiana Tort Claims Act, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, because it is a private company rather than a governmental entity.

Sharpsville Community Ambulance Inc. entered into a contract with Tipton County to serve as the community’s primary emergency ambulance provider. Per the contract, Sharpsville is paid $16,000 by the county and its services are not open for hire by the public. It can only be contacted through the 911 dispatch system.

The ambulance company was responding to a call when the ambulance collided with Cynthia Gilbert’s car on U.S. 31. Gilbert and her husband filed a tort claim notice and sued Sharpsville Community Ambulance, seeking damages as a result of the accident. The trial court granted the couple’s motion for partial summary judgment that Sharpsville is not entitled to the protections of the ITCA because it is not a governmental entity.

On interlocutory appeal, the COA affirmed in Sharpsville Community Ambulance, Inc. v. Cynthia Gilbert and Randall Gilbert, 34A05-1503-CT-101.

The Indiana Supreme Court held in Ayres v. Indian Heights Volunteer Fire Dept., 493 N.E.2d 1229 (Ind. 1986), that the volunteer fire department is entitled to protections of the ITCA as the Legislature clearly intended to recognize volunteer fire departments as instrumentalities of local governments. In fact, after Ayers was decided, the Legislature added volunteer fire departments under the statutory definition of “political subdivisions” under the ITCA.

Given that the Legislature has not specifically included a definition that would include Sharpsville as a “political subdivision” for ITCA purposes, the COA was inclined to conclude that it is not entitled to ITCA protection, Judge John Baker wrote. It relied on Greater Hammond CmtyServs. V. Mutka, 735 N.E.2d 780, 782, to confirm its inclination.

“It is true that Sharpsville provides only emergency medical services, is comprised of volunteers, is a non-profit entity, can be reached only through 911, provides its services to a specific geographic area, and provides its services at the behest of the government for a nominal fee. These limitations, however, are self-imposed by Sharpsville’s voluntary decision to enter into the contract with Tipton County,” Baker wrote.

“There are no statutes, rules, or regulations that compel Sharpsville to adhere to any of these restrictions. Pursuant to Mutka, therefore, these facts do not support a finding that Sharpsville is a governmental entity. Sharpsville cannot voluntarily contract its way into the status of ‘governmental entity.’”
 

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