Costco gas station fist fight illustrates Good Samaritan Law (Opinion)

Jim Porter

We’ve written about the Good Samaritan law before primarily because I want to encourage people to help others whenever possible without fear of being successfully sued.

Costco Gas Station Fist Fight

My only minor beef with getting gas at Costco is the price is so cheap there is often a long line. But it’s worth it.

Mark Valdez and Joseph Lizarraga weren’t fighting over being in line. The had an ongoing feud and got into a serious fist fight. Daniel Terrones was the Costco gas station attendant. Being alerted to the fight he stepped in after yelling at the combatants to stop. Fearing Valdez and Lizarraga would hurt each other further, Terrones decided to intervene to stop the fight and in doing so, specifically pulling on Valdez’s shoulder, Valdez “heard a pop.” Valdez claimed Terrones’s actions aggravated a preexisting shoulder injury and he sued Terrones and Costco. By the way, after the fight was broken up, Lizarraga escaped and drove away with Valdez in chase.

Gas Station Attendant Sued for Breaking up the Fight

Valdez sued the attendant for negligence, assault and battery and everything else claiming Terrones intentionally injured Valdez by “prying” him away from Lizarraga.

Costco and Terrones claimed they were entitled to immunity per the Good Samaritan law. The trial court agreed. Valdez appealed.

Good Samaritan Law

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.

Here is Health and Safety Code section 1799.102 in part: “Except for those persons specified in subdivision (a), [medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel] no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical 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 and other places where medical care is usually offered.”

The purpose embodied in the law is “to encourage other individuals to volunteer, without compensation, to assist others in need during an emergency, while ensuring that those volunteers who provide care or assistance act responsibly.”

What’s an Emergency?

The issue in our Costco case is what is an emergency, which is defined in the code as “a condition or situation in which an individual has a need for immediate medical attention, or where the potential precise need is perceived by emergency medical personnel or a public safety agency.”

Valdez argued that the fist fight did not qualify as an emergency because neither of the combatants “had a need for immediate medical attention.”

Court of Appeal Ruling

The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled for Terrones and Costco determining that the fist fight at the gas station constituted an emergency. “But for Terrones’s intervention the fight would have continued. Therefore, by intervening to end the fight, Terrones was rendering emergency nonmedical assistance while at the scene of an emergency….” His decision to separate the combatants was not only objectively reasonable but subjectively done in good faith. Terrones was shielded from liability as a Good Samaritan. As he should have been in my opinion.

Jim Porter is a retired attorney from the Porter Simon law firm. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Porter Simon has offices in Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada. Porter Simon’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, family law, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. Jim may be reached at Like us on Facebook. ©2023

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