CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT DEFINES GOOD SAMARITAN LAW PROTECTIONS
Court’s Ruling Affirms Immunity Protection for those Rendering Medical Assistance
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The California Supreme Court has ruled that California’s Good Samaritan Law doesn’t protect as many Good Samaritans as was widely believed. In a 4 to 3 decision, the court determined that Good Samaritan protection from civil lawsuits extends only to one who renders emergency medical care at the scene of an accident.
The ruling arose from a lawsuit (Van Horn v. Watson) in which it was claimed that the plaintiff was seriously injured when she was removed from an automobile which had crashed into a power pole by the cross-defendant, Torti, who witnessed the crash. Torti contended that she was protected by the Good Samaritan law in that she had provided “emergency care at the scene of an emergency.”
The California law is contained in Health and Safety Code section 1799.102, and 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 majority held that an analysis of the statute and the surrounding legislative history showed that the intent of the legislation was to protect only those providing emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.
The court pointed out that H&S Code section 1799.107 provides a qualified immunity from liability to emergency rescue personnel who render medical and/or non-medical care.
California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, in his dissenting opinion, stated that the majority opinion “imposes an arbitrary and unreasonable limitation of the protection this statute affords to Good Samaritans.”
He provided the following illustrations: “…a passerby who, at the risk of his or her own life, saves someone about to perish in a burning building can be sued for incidental injury caused in the rescue, but would be immune for harming the victim during the administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation out on the sidewalk…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.”
“Although this ruling affirms Good Samaritan protection to those rendering first aid or performing CPR, AED or other medical assistance, there is concern that it could discourage persons from coming to the aid of another for fear of being sued for their efforts,” says Bob Taggart, an attorney and EMT for Annuvia, Inc. (www.annuvia.com), a national safety training and consulting organization.
California State Senator John Benoit of Riverside has introduced SB 39, The Good Samaritan Protection Act, which would amend the current statute to define emergency care as “medical or nonmedical.” Benoit, who spent 31 years in law enforcement, personally recalled “many of these Good Samaritans whose urgency has made the difference where every second counts… If not corrected, I fear this ruling will cost lives.”
Annuvia (www.annuvia.com) is a leading provider of health, safety, emergency preparedness, and emergency response services in the nation. The company assists businesses and organizations with emergency training programs for CPR and AED use, first aid safety training, and customized consultative solutions to create safer, more prepared communities. Annuvia specializes in streamlining national programs for many of the nation’s largest organizations.