Court Rules No Overtime For Flight Medics

A federal court in Missouri has ruled that employees of air ambulance providers are not entitled to overtime compensation because air ambulance providers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The suit was filed last year by Jacob Riegelsberger against Air Evac EMS, Inc. under the FLSA because he and his co-workers were only paid overtime after they worked 84 hours in a two week paid period. Riegelsberger, a flight medic, argued that under the FLSA overtime was required after 40 hours each week.

Air Evac argued they were exempt from the FLSA under the 29 U.S.C. §213(b)(3) exception for a “carrier by air subject to the provisions of title II of the Railway Labor Act”. US District Court Judge Audrey G. Fleissig agreed granting the air ambulance service summary judgment.

As explained in her decision handed down today:

  • [E]very court and federal agency to have considered the question has held that air ambulance companies are common carriers by air under the RLA.
  • While neither the RLA nor the FLSA defines the term “common carrier by air,” as noted above, federal courts look to the common law definition for guidance.
  • Under common law, the question turns on “whether the carrier has held itself out to the public or to a definable segment of the public as being willing to transport for hire, indiscriminately.”
  • “What is crucial is that the common carrier defines itself through its own marketing efforts as being willing to carry any member of that segment of the public which it serves,” even if that segment “represent[s] a small segment of the general population.”
  • Applying this test, the National Mediation Board (“NMB”), the federal agency responsible for administering the RLA, as well as every federal court to consider the issue, has held that air ambulance companies like Air Evac are common carriers by air under the RLA.
  • Air Evac’s certification by the FAA as an air carrier authorized to conduct common carriage operations, pursuant to its Part 135 Certificate, also supports the determination that Air Evac is a common law common carrier.
  • The federal agencies and courts noted above have explicitly considered and rejected many of the arguments raised by Plaintiff here, and the Court finds their reasoning persuasive.
  • Specifically, it is immaterial that Air Evac markets its services to hospitals. The Court is not persuaded by the state law cases cited by Plaintiff regarding the common carrier status of ground ambulances in tort actions.
  • Aside from the obvious distinctions regarding the type of company and type of case, some of the cases Plaintiff cites did not even address the question of common carrier status.Finally, that Air Evac may be required by state law to transport patients without questioning their ability to pay, or collecting payment up front, does not take away from its common carrier status.
  • Air Evac still holds itself out to a definable segment of the public as being willing to transport “for hire,” indiscriminately.
  • As such, it is a common carrier by air.

Here is a copy of the decision: Riegelsberger v. Air Evac Ems_ 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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