When Is an Ambulance Service a State Entity?
One having a claim for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death against a Mississippi governmental entity or its employees must bring the claim under a series of statutes called the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“Act”). This Act is the exclusive civil remedy against any governmental entity or its employees, and was the subject of a recent Mississippi Supreme Court decision on the Act’s breadth. That issue was important in Woodall v AAA Ambulance Service, Inc., 2013-CA-02124-SCT (Miss. April 23, 2015), because of the Act’s one year statute of limitations. The suit in Woodall was not filed for almost two years.
On July 3, 2010, Cynthia Woodall’s husband suffered a cardiac arrest while working as a HVAC contractor at a home in McComb, Mississippi. The homeowner called 911 and the call was immediately transferred to AAA Ambulance Service. Woodall alleged that AAA failed to respond soon enough and made insufficient attempts to provide Mr. Woodall with proper care.
She filed a wrongful death action on February 24, 2012, and the question was whether the Act’s one year statute of limitations applied. To answer that, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered whether AAA Ambulance Service was an “instrumentality of the state.” While one would not normally consider an ambulance service to be a state instrumentality, here the Mississippi Supreme Court found just the opposite since “governmental entities entirely own AAA and exercise substantial control over its operations.” AAA is owned by the City of Hattiesburg, Forrest County, and Forrest County General Hospital, a community hospital. Further, the City, the County, and the hospital select the entire AAA board of directors, and Forrest County General Hospital controls AAA’s day to day managers.
Since the Supreme Court found AAA to be an instrumentality of the state, the Supreme Court held that the Mississippi Tort Claims Act applies and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case based on the Act’s one year statute of limitations.
The reminders from the Woodall decision are that the Mississippi Tort Claims Act is the exclusive remedy when pursuing claims against the state and political subdivisions, including state “instrumentalities,” that a one year statute of limitations applies, and that the reach of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act is broader than one might expect.