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Court Rules Good Samaritan Can Be Sued

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, December 22, 2008 12:22 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Protecting Your Family, Major Medical, Negligence, Good Samaritan, Liability, Spinal Cord Injury

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IMAGE SOURCE:© iStockPhoto / emergency care / author: dlewis33

No good deed goes unpunished, especially in California…

The California Supreme Court ruled last week that a would-be Good Samaritan accused of rendering her friend a paraplegic by pulling her from a wrecked car,” isn’t immune from civil liability.

The court ruled that the state’s Good Samaritan law only protects people from liability if they administer emergency care and found that Lisa Torti’s rescue efforts did not qualify as such.

A person is not obligated to come to someone’s aid, wrote Justice Carlos Moreno.

“If, however, a person elects to come to someone’s aid, that person has duty to exercise due care,” he wrote.

The high court suggested that rescue efforts are the responsibility of a trained professional. It was also thought to be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervened in an accident, in good faith, could be sued.

Torti had argued that should be shielded from a lawsuit because she was giving “medical care” when she pulled her friend from the wrecked vehicle.

On November 1, 2004, Van Horn, Torti and three co-workers went to a bar for drinking and dancing, departing in two cars at 1:30 a.m.

Van Horn was the front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Anthony Glen Watson, whom she also sued and Torti was in the second vehicle. After Watson’s car crashed in a light pole at 45 mph, the second car pulled over and the driver and Torti rushed to help Watson and Van Horn to escape the wreckage.

When Torti came upon the vehicle immediately following the crash, she saw smoke and liquid coming from the car and feared it was going to catch fire. At which time she proceeded to pull Van Horn from the vehicle, said Torti in a deposition.

Horn testified that Torti, in a fit of panic, yanked her from the vehicle “like a rag doll,” and blames her friend for her paralysis. The suit alleges negligence by Torti in aggravating a vertebrae injury suffered in the crash, causing permanent damage to her spinal cord.

Torti now faces possible liability for the injuries Van Horn suffered.

The California legislature enacted the Health and Safety Code in 1980, which 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 that result from any act or omission. But the majority ruled that lawmakers intended to shield “only those persons who in good faith render emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.

But, in dissent, three of the seven justices said that by making a distinction between medical care and emergency response, the court was placing “an arbitrary and unreasonable limitation” on protections for those that are trying to help.

It is yet to be determined whether Torti is ultimately liable, but the Supreme Court ruled the case can move forward. #


1 Comment

Posted by Brendan Howard
Monday, December 22, 2008 11:14 AM EST

I don't fault the courts' thinking on this. These are complex legal issues. In general, people should be free to sue. And so should this plaintiff. BUT ... it is an IMMORAL and WRONG thing the plaintiff is doing. She's trying to take money from and punish someone who tried to do the right thing, but made a mistake in the heat of the moment. If the car had burned and she had died, she wouldn't be around to sue. It's a terrible situation, what with the paralysis. And she should sue the DRIVER, if that driver was at fault. But someone who worried she was in mortal danger from a car explosion? Even if it was poor thinking. Do we expect every other human being to know everything? The proximity of a leak to flame? The signs of spinal injury? Come ON. This plaintiff's suit urges more Americans to leave those in danger to the fates and the time it takes for police officers, firefighters, and EMTs to show up on scene.

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