Good Samaritans Take Heed
You may want to be a little more careful next time you get the chance to be a good Samaritan, especially in California.
The California Supreme Court ruled December 18, 2008 that Alexandra Van Horn isn't immune from civil liability because the care she rendered wasn't medical. Lisa Torti alleges that the injures she incurred from a motor vehicle accident were worsened when Alexandra removed her from the wrecked car by "yanking her like a rag doll". Ms Tori is now a paraplegic following the accident that occurred on Halloween night 2004.
In 1980, the Legislature enacted the Health and Safety Code which has been called the Good Samaritan Rule. It provides that "no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission."
The high court was divided on the issue of Good Samaritan, four to three. Justice Carlos R Moreno wrote for the majority. It was noted that although the passage does not use the word "medical" in the description of the protected emergency care, the passage was included in the section of the code that deals with emergency medical services. The majority judges felt that by placing it there, the lawmakers intended to shield "only those persons who in good faith render emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency."
The three dissenting justices stated that stated that the court was placing "an arbitrary and unreasonable limitation" on the protections for those trying to help. They argued that the 1980 legislation was clearly "to encourage persons not to pass by those in need of emergency help, but to show compassion and render the necessary aid."
Justice Marvin R. Baxter said the ruling was "illogical" because it recognizes legal immunity for nonprofessionals administering medical care while denying it for potentially life-saving actions like saving a person from drowning or carrying an injured hiker to safety. "One who dives into swirling waters to retrieve a drowning swimmer can be sued for incidental injury he or she causes while bringing the victim to shore, but is immune for harm he or she produces while thereafter trying to revive the victim," Baxter wrote for the dissenters.
The California Supreme court seems to have sent the message that emergency care should be left to the medical professionals. How will this ruling affect volunteers that take part in disaster emergency situations? Will fewer people be willing to aid a drowning swimmer?