California Good Samaritan Statute Revised (For the Better)

By Doyice Cotten

All states have Good Samaritan statutes. Some statutes are better than others… that is, offer more liability protection for the rescuer than others. California has made a needed move to clarify and strengthen its Good Samaritan law.

Alexandra Van Horn and Lisa Torti and some friends left a bar at about 1:30 a.m. in separate cars. The first car, containing Van Horn crashed into a curb and light standard at 45 mph. Her friend, Torti, who was following in the second car, believing the first car was going to “blow up,” removed Van Horn from the car. Van Horn, who had been able to move her legs prior to exiting the car, ended up paralyzed. A lawsuit resulted and continued to the California Supreme Court (Van Horn v. Watson, 2008 Cal. LEXIS 14589).

Torti relied on the California Good Samaritan Statute as her defense. The statute read:

“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. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.”

The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court ruling that the statute applied only to emergency medical care and ruled for the plaintiff in a 4 to 3 decision.

Many felt that this decision would discourage others from aiding or rescuing others in trouble and the legislature subsequently revised the statute in 2009 to read:

(a) No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered. This subdivision applies only to the medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel specified in this chapter.

(b) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature 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.

Thus, if one volunteers to assist another, that rescuer will  not be liable for resulting injury unless the rescuer’s action was grossly negligent or willful or wanton misconduct.

Photo Credit: Thanks to jvanb231’s Photostream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jvanb231/2568859415/sizes/z/)