Larry's Legal Lessons: Good Samaritan Immunity Limited to Medical Assistance

In California, a judge allowed a lawsuit when a woman pulled her friend from a car crash, which caused life-changing injuries.Legal Lesson Learned: Fortunately in most states, the courts have broadly interpreted their "Good Samaritan" statutes, thereby...


Hutton filed a lawsuit against Logan, but after the testimony by the police officer and Hutton, the trial judge granted a directed verdict for the defendant based on the contributory negligence of the plaintiff. On appeal, Ms. Hutton asserts that she was a "rescuer" and under the Rescue Doctrine, and contributory negligence does not apply. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the Good Samarian statute does not protect her from liability to third parties who are not being rescued. Therefore her lawsuit against Ms. Logan was properly dismissed.

Ohio, 2000 - The Ohio Good Samaritan statute provides: "No person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency outside of a hospital, doctor's office, or other place having proper medical equipment, for acts performed at the scene of such emergency, unless such acts constitute willful or wanton misconduct." Ohio Revised Code 2305.23.

In James Butler v. Andrew Rejon, Jr., Ohio Court of Appeals for 9th District (Summit County), C.A. No. 19699 (2000), on Jan. 25, 1998, Mr. Butler and his wife stopped on westbound I-76 to assist a motorist, whose vehicle was facing on coming traffic, partially blocking the highway, with its lights off. Mr. Butler put on his emergency flashers, and began to direct traffic to the other lane. Another motorist also stopped, and he parked on the berm. While waiting for police to arrive, Andrew Rejon, Jr. crashed into the rear of the Butler's car, injuring Mrs. Butler. Mr. Butler, in extricating his wife, aggravated a pre-exiting back injury. Mr. And Mrs. Butler filed lawsuit against Rejon, and a jury awarded Mrs. Butler $20,000, and Mr. Butler $8000, but found Mr. Butler to be 35 percent comparatively negligent (Mr. Butler's verdict was therefore reduced to $5,200). Mr. Butler asked the Ohio Court of Appeals to throw out this reduced verdict, arguing that the trial judge should have instructed the jury that if they found him to be a Good Samaritan, then they should not reduce their verdict for comparative negligence. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that while Mr. Butler was acting as a Good Samaritan regarding the disabled driver, he was not a Good Samaritan towards Mr. Rejon since he did not provide any emergency care or treatment to Mr. Rejon.

New Mexico, 1999 - New Mexico Good Samaritan statute 24-10-3 provides: "a person administering emergency care at the scene of an emergency, without remuneration or the expectation of remuneration, is not liable for any damages unless the person acts in a grossly negligent manner."

In Ernesto Ortiz v. United States Board Patrol, U.S. District Court, District of New Mexico, 39 F. Supp.2d 1321 (1999), Mr. Ortiz' Bronco hit a patch of ice and rolled onto its top, trapping the driver. A New Mexico State Trooper observed that Mr. Ortiz was pinned and suffocating. He asked two U.S. Border Patrol agents that had stopped at the accident to hook a chain from their vehicle to the Bronco and pull it back to its wheels. Ortiz later sued the two agents and the U.S. Border Patrol, claiming they caused him spinal injuries when rolling the vehicle upright. The Federal District Judge dismissed the lawsuit on the base of the New Mexico Good Samaritan statute.

Conclusion
California needs to amend their Good Samaritan statute; courts which broadly interpret these statutes in order to protect the public from frivolous lawsuits perform a great public service.

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LARRY BENNETT, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is an attorney and the Deputy Director of Fire Science Education at the University of Cincinnati's Fire Science Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter/EMT for the past 27 years, and is the author of a new textbook, Fire Service Law, that is used by the National Fire Academy (NFA) in its distant learning course, Political and Legal Foundations of Fire Protection. The NFA appointed Larry as their Subject Matter Expert to update the curriculum in this course. and he serves on the NFPA 1500 Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health Committee. Larry writes a free Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter which you can sign up online to receive free. Larry writes a free Fire & EMS Law newsletter that can be read at the UC Fire Science web page To read Larry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at lawrence.bennett@uc.edu.