Jim Porter: Feel comfortable helping someone as a ‘Good Samaritan’ (opinion)
March 17, 2017
California has several Good Samaritan laws protecting volunteer rescuers from lawsuits. The public policy behind the laws is to encourage others to assist victims, rather than have them refuse to get involved for fear of being sued.
GOOD SAMARITAN LAW
I want to encourage rescuers and bystanders to help those in need, so if you have a short attention span and don't want to read all of this award-winning column, here's the bottom line:
No one has the duty to come to the aid of another in California, unless there is a special relationship between the rescuer and the rescued, however if someone volunteers to assist another, that rescuer is not liable unless they are grossly negligent or act willfully or with wanton misconduct – even if they inadvertently or negligently increase the risk of the injured person's harm or they increase the injury.
Bottom line, help out if you think you can do so safely.
CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT
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You may remember reading a column several years ago about Lisa Torti who came upon a car crash and helped extricate the injured passenger from the damaged vehicle.
The victim ended up permanently paralyzed — perhaps compounded by Torti.
The Good Samaritan law at the time immunized any person "who…renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency … from liability for civil damages."
For whatever reason, the California Supreme Court determined that "emergency care" meant "medical care," and as Torti did not render emergency medical care, she just pulled the victim out of the vehicle, Torti faced liability. I was critical of the Court's decision.
LEGISLATURE TO THE RESCUE
The California Legislature apparently reads "The Law Review," and it took swift action, passing a new Good Samaritan law amending Health and Safety Code §1799.102, which now reads in part:
"No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or non-medical care or assistance at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission other than an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments or other places where medical care is usually offered."
That means if you make a mistake or even if you negligently assist at the scene, you are not responsible unless you are seriously negligent (grossly negligent), which is a high bar. A very favorable Good Samaritan law in California.
OTHER GOOD SAMARITAN LAWS
Other Good Samaritan laws provide immunity from liability, such as for anyone with first aid training who is asked by authorities to assist in a search and rescue operation and who renders emergency services to a victim which includes merely transporting the victim.
Plus the Harbors and Navigation code immunizes any person who provides assistance "at the scene of a vessel collision, accident, or other casualty."
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.