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From the Los Angeles Times

California Supreme Court allows good Samaritans to be sued for nonmedical care

The ruling stems from a case in which a woman pulled a crash victim from a car 'like a rag doll,' allegedly aggravating a vertebrae injury.

By Carol J. Williams

December 19, 2008

Being a good Samaritan in California just got a little riskier.

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a young woman who pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle isn't immune from civil liability because the care she rendered wasn't medical.

The divided high court appeared to signal that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. 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.

Lisa Torti of Northridge allegedly worsened the injuries suffered by Alexandra Van Horn by yanking her "like a rag doll" from the wrecked car on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Torti now faces possible liability for injuries suffered by Van Horn, a fellow department store cosmetician who was rendered a paraplegic in the accident that ended a night of Halloween revelry in 2004.

But in a sharp 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 trying to help.

In 1980, the Legislature enacted the Health and Safety Code, 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 resulting from any act or omission."

Although that passage does not use the word "medical" in describing the protected emergency care, it was included in the section of the code that deals with emergency medical services. By placing it there, lawmakers intended to shield "only those persons who in good faith render emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency," Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the majority.

The high court cited no previous cases involving good Samaritan actions deemed unprotected by the state code, suggesting the challenge of Torti's rescue effort was the first to narrow the scope of the law.

The three dissenting justices argued, however, that the aim of the legislation was clearly "to encourage persons not to pass by those in need of emergency help, but to show compassion and render the necessary aid."

Justice Marvin R. Baxter said the ruling was "illogical" because it recognizes legal immunity for nonprofessionals administering medical care while denying it for potentially life-saving actions like saving a person from drowning or carrying an injured hiker to safety.

"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," Baxter wrote for the dissenters. "Here, the result is that defendant Torti has no immunity for her bravery in pulling her injured friend from a crashed vehicle, even if she reasonably believed it might be about to explode."

Both opinions have merit, "but I think the majority has better arguments," said Michael Shapiro, professor of constitutional and bioethics law at USC.

Shapiro said the majority was correct in interpreting that the Legislature meant to shield doctors and other healthcare professionals from being sued for injuries they cause despite acting with "reasonable care," as the law requires.

Noting that he would be reluctant himself to step in to aid a crash victim with potential spinal injuries, Shapiro said the court's message was that emergency care "should be left to medical professionals."

Torti's liability has yet to be determined in court, and if the Legislature is unhappy with any judgment arising from the immunity denial, it can revise the code, he concluded.

Torti, Van Horn and three other co-workers from a San Fernando Valley department store had gone out to a bar on Halloween for a night of drinking and dancing, departing in two cars at 1:30 a.m., the justices noted as background.

Van Horn was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Anthony Glen Watson, whom she also sued, and Torti rode in the second car. After Watson's car crashed into a light pole at about 45 mph, the rear car pulled off the road and driver Dion Ofoegbu and Torti rushed to help Watson's two passengers escape the wreckage.

Torti testified in a deposition that she saw smoke and liquid coming from Watson's vehicle and feared the car was about to catch fire. None of the others reported seeing signs of an imminent explosion, and Van Horn said in her deposition that Torti grabbed her arm and yanked her out "like a rag doll."

Van Horn's suit alleges negligence by Torti in aggravating a vertebrae injury suffered in the crash, causing permanent damage to the spinal cord.

Neither Torti nor her attorney, Ronald D. Kent, could be reached immediately. Kent's Los Angeles law office said he was in meetings on the East Coast and may not have seen the decision.

Van Horn's attorney, Robert B. Hutchinson, disputed the notion that the ruling could have a chilling effect on laymen coming to the rescue of the injured. Good Samaritan laws have been on the books for centuries and state that "if a person volunteers to act, he or she must act with reasonable care," Hutchinson said.

"Ms. Torti ran up in a state of panic, literally grabbed Ms. Van Horn by the shoulder and yanked her out, then dropped her next to the car," he said, deeming Torti's assessment of an imminent explosion "irrational" and her action in leaving Van Horn close to the car inconsistent with that judgment.

Hutchinson said it was too early to say what sum Van Horn might seek in damages; her original suit was summarily dismissed in Los Angeles County Superior Court before he could arrange expert assessments of the costs of her life care and loss of potential income. It was her ambition to become a Hollywood makeup artist -- a dream no longer achievable, the lawyer said.

Torti's trial at the Chatsworth courthouse is expected next year.


Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

If you really want to make people safe drivers again then simply remove all the safety features from cars. No more seat belts, ABS brakes, traction control, air bags or stability control. No more anything. You'll see how quickly people will slow down and once again learn to drive like "normal" humans.

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So now folks if you see a bad accident or if you are in a bad accident save yourself and just stand by and WATCH, if the car goes up in FLAMES refer to this article when you are interviewed for DOING NOTHING. Set aside the fight or flee feelings you have, the urge to help or save someone, the adrenilin...

It would be natural to FEEL GUILT for doing nothing as someone suffers or dies when as the car burns but DON'T, the law does NOT permit you to save someone without taking on risk of hurting them more, its not your fault. If they die in a fire while you watch, so be it...

Aren't trial lawyers reasonable. I really hope that this attorney gets pinned in a car one day, and it starts burning and someone just stands and watches, citing this case....

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Wikipedia: good Samaritan laws

Laws for first aiders only

In some jurisdictions, Good Samaritan laws only protect those that have completed basic first aid training and are certified by health organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, or American Safety and Health Institute, provided that they have acted within the scope of their training.[15] In these jurisdictions, a person that is neither trained in first aid nor certified, and who performs first aid incorrectly, can still be held legally liable for errors made. In other jurisdictions, any rescuer is protected from liability, so long as the responder acted rationally.

Texas Law discussion

Good Samaritan Law: Liability for Emergency Care

The Texas Good Samaritan Law limits the civil liability of persons administering emergency care in good faith at the scene of an emergency or in a health care facility. The law limits the civil liability of these persons unless their actions are wilfully and wantonly negligent. This protection does not apply to care administered for or in expectation of remuneration, or by a person who was at the scene of the emergency because he or a person he represents as an agent was soliciting business or seeking to perform a service for remuneration. Also, the limited civil liability is not available for a person whose negligence was a producing cause of the emergency for which care is being administered.[35]

Emergency medical service personnel who are not licensed in the healing arts who administer emergency care in good faith are not liable in civil damages for an act performed in administering the care unless the act is wilfully or wantonly negligent. This limit of liability applies regardless of whether the care is provided for or in expectation of remuneration.[36]

The limited civil liability provided by the Good Samaritan law is an affirmative defense. This means that after a lawsuit is filed, the physician must prove that the law provides protection. In a recent case (October 2001), the Texas Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled this burden meant that the physician must conclusively prove, as a matter of law, that he is not legally entitled to remuneration.[37] In other words, if there was a legal theory that would permit the physician to seek payment, then the physician could be found liable because the Good Samaritan law would not apply.

This decision, in effect, rendered the Good Samaritan law useless because it placed a nearly impossible burden of proof on the physician. TMA filed a brief in this case after the Texas Supreme Court agreed to review it.

On June 26, 2003, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and found that the defendant, Dr. McIntyre (an obstetrician who had responded to a “Dr. Stork” call) conclusively proved that he was entitled to Good Samaritan protection.[38] The issue was also favorably addressed in House Bill 4,[39] which clarified, “that being legally entitled to receive remuneration for the emergency care rendered shall not determine whether or not the care was administered for or in anticipation of remuneration (emphasis added).”


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Looks like the Texas law is a lot more sensible than the one in California.

So .. what else is new. :D:D

California seems to be the land of idiots.

It's the land of fruits and nuts.

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