The California Supreme Court has handed down an important ruling on the limits of Good Samaritan laws, which often protect medical personnel from some forms of liability. The law does not help Lisa Torti who pulled a co-worker from a wreak because her assistance was not medical.
Alexandra Van Horn sued Torti for pulling her from the car and allegedly worsening her injuries in an accident on Halloween in 2004.
Under the common law, there is no duty to rescue someone if you were not responsible for the accident or otherwise obligated to help. However, if you do rescue, you may be sued for negligence in your actions. The state supreme court sharply divided on the issue. 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.” While the language does not use the term medical, a slim majority found the meaning of the provision to be limited to such assistance. Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the majority that “only those persons who in good faith render emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.”
These are very tough decisions because having an absolute good samaritan rule would leave many injured people without a possible remedy if their most serious injuries were due to the rescuer rather than the original accident. Usually, juries can effectively sort out these close cases — heavily leaning in favor of any rescuer. In this way, only the most negligent rescuer tend to be held liable. However, admittedly, this means they have to shoulder the costs of litigation.
Of course, this brings a certain legal meaning to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” asked Jesus. The man answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: (the parable starts here) “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead with no clothes. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The New Testament According to ABA would have the Samaritan signing a waiver in advance of any aid. Pouring oil and wine on a wound is grossly negligent as is putting a severely injured man on the back of an animal. The Samaritan was also unaware of the aide and conditions of this unknown inn. It is a parable frought with potential liability.
17 thoughts on “Torti Tort: California Supreme Court Rules Against Good Samaritan”
“I think all attorneys should be required to wear a button that states, “If in arrest, await trained responders.” The brain death will do the profession some good…”
My, my no professional courtesy here. The next time you think attorneys don’t save lives take a look at that piece of webbing and metal attached to your Mercedes frame and extending across your lap. But for attorneys insisting on this little $4.00 item by means of civil lawsuits, you and yours might be propelled through the very real looking glass world you seem to inhabit, thus condemning them and you to the condition that you mischievously wish on my profession. Physician heal thyself — first!
“All the attorneys in the world could never save a life, but they would argue about it.”
The Tori case should not have survived summary judgement. As a trained trauma surgeon, I can assure the readers that good samaritans will think twice before rendering assistance. Average response time for trained recue personnel in moderate sized cities is ten minutes, longer in crisis situations and during peak commute times. In cardiac arrest, out of hospital survival is directly linked to the time lag between initiation of CPR and the prompt use of external automatic defibrillators (most often by lay responders). Total survival is most directly correlated with time between sudden cardiac asystole and instituio of countershock by the defibrillator. I think all attorneys should be required to wear a button that states, “If in arrest, await trained responders.” The brain death will do the profession some good…
A partial response to Chuck:
To me, there are two fundamental questions, but I’ll only address the first one now.
Do we even want to promote intervention by Good Samaritans in modern society when, unlike 2000 years ago, we have verging-on-ubiquitous trained rescue and EMT teams ready to deal with emergencies without the prototypical Good Samaritan’s confusion, uncertainty, panic, and clumsiness (and, thus, inevitable and often damaging errors)? In one of the early posts, snailclimbingmtfuji astutely pointed out that, surprisingly, Good Samaritanism is not a moral but an empirical matter. Perhaps unnecessarily mathematically (no offense, snail–if I may call you that) he demonstrated that Samaritans will help some who wouldn’t be reached in time by EMTs but cause avoidable harm to others who WOULD have been quickly and skillfully tended to by professional rescuers. Whether the net is positive or negative is a question that can only be established by examining and evaluating thousands of actual emergency situations, so, as snailclimbingmtfuji puts it,”Not to criticize Jesus (especially at Christmastime!!), but in today’s world, sometimes the moral course can’t necessarily be determined by listening to your heart or by checking your Bible, but by compiling and analyzing statistics. And yet how cold and even repulsive talk of standard deviations and 95% confidence intervals is compared to a deeply touching Parable of Jesus, especially when we’re dealing with life and death matters!!”
I would add that you actually would have to compile MANY discrete sets of statistics, since conclusions would only apply very locally, for the following reason: In high population-density areas, with EMS likely only minutes away, the percentage of cases where the instantaneous intervention by a Good Samaritan would make a vital difference would be relatively small. But on remote stretches of back road in Wyoming, where a Good Samaritan passing an accident scene would have to summon help possibly hours away (if his cell phone even worked in that area!), an intervention might well be life-saving. Thus, it’s highly probable that in some places encouraging Good Samaritans would be perfectly sensible but elsewhere perfectly foolish.
So, not only is deciding the apparently purely moral issue of ‘aiding a stranger’ as much a matter of compiling statistics as of studying the writings of Kant, Aristotle, and Jesus on the subject of ethics, but even then, the statistics would only tell you what is appropriate in a particular place, at a particular time in its development. It could well be that the statistical analysis would lead to a dizzying melange of state laws such that if you intervene in Fort Lee, New Jersey, you’re a hero; intervene at the other end of the George Washington Bridge, in Manhattan, and expect 8 years of depositions with Saunders and Maunders, Attorneys-At-Law.
Point well taken. That’s the problem with things like ‘amusing irony’: the nuance is easily lost, particularly on people who aren’t familiar with the writer. Thanks for explaining the ‘punchline’, though. I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing its obvious presence.
I’m still a bit frustrated that there’s not much dialog happening here. This isn’t a black-and-white issue. Where is the line between “Good Samaritan” and “negligent jerk?” If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then should society give a pass to every well-intentioned Good Samaritan?
Having to explain the punch line(s) of a parable is like having to explain what a joke meant; however, thanks for clarifying the allegorical ‘point’ for some people who might have derived a different ‘moral of the story’ from JT’s perfect fable.
I think that Professor Turley’s keen, greased lightning quick wit is lost on the majority while treasured by the regulars here and a main draw to his blawg. Turley purely has an exquisite intellect. Now, let there be no mistake, I do not always agree with his ‘liberal’ views, I sometimes I would like to be able to ‘set him straight’ regarding the errors of his ways, although that most likely says more about my own intellect than his.
“As for Mr. Turley’s comment, “Pouring oil and wine on a wound is grossly negligent as is putting a severely injured man on the back of an animal.” You’re comparing medicine from 2,000 years ago to medicine today. If the Samaritan was acting based on the standard of medical care for that time, then his actions were completely reasonable, however absurd they may seem today. Of course, the Bible (thankfully) doesn’t go into things like Standard of Care, but I think your argument gets caught up in the letter of the text rather than the spirit of the text.”
I don’t think Jonathan Turley was trying to excoriate the poor Good Samaritan for inappropriate conduct—quite the contrary. He was pointing out the amusing irony that this Good Samaritan, by Jesus’s own words someone acting in perfect accord with divinely-ordained morality (which our society fervently embraces), would probably be left a pauper after that same society’s lawyers got through with him, all with the warm blessings of that society’s judicial elite.
The good that “could” emerge from this case would be a precedent setting Good Samaritan law that Good Samaritans everywhere can understand without second-guessing the intent of any legislatures’ “reasoning.”
Common humanity is relevant, Harebell. But the facts as I understand them (and I fully admit I might not have them correct) are also relevant:
1) The car was not burning
2) Both parties had been “out partying” and had recently “left the bar,” according to CNN
3) Ms Torti allegedly pulled her friend out of the car “like a ragdoll.”
The California Supreme Court is not saying that Ms. Torti is guilty. It is simply saying that the facts of the case deserve to be heard by a lower court.
A big fact we don’t know is whether Ms. Torti had been drinking before she helped her friend. If she had been drinking, we don’t know whether or not she was capable of making good judgment. In my opinion, that’s a huge factor in this case.
We don’t know whether or not 911 had been called, and if they had, how far away they were. Were an ambulance and firetruck 30 seconds away, or 15 minutes away?
We don’t know whether Ms. Van Horn was injured in the accident, or by Ms. Torti’s actions.
All the Supreme Court is saying is that the facts of this case deserve to be heard. And I agree with them. I’m willing to bet that if Ms. Torti wasn’t drunk and there were no First Responders on the way and the car really was smoking, she’ll win the suit.
If we want to be pissed about something, let’s be pissed about the fact that the woman who can afford the best attorney and the best “Medical Expert” (i.e., the one with the best degrees, and the one who keeps his/her composure during cross-examination) will likely win the case, regardless of the actual truth.
I guess what it boils down too is:
If I see someone in distress, I must overcome my urge to help them because it might cost my family everything. If they are stuck in a burning car I am not a firefighter, a mechanic or a doctor so I have no expertise that justifies me getting involved. Common humanity is not relevant. Also if I see somebody being assaulted as I am not a police officer or anybody with knowledge of the justice system I should just walk on, empathy will only lose you all your savings and your home.
Frankly I think your society is seriously screwed up if this is the state of the law on this issue. People who are genuinely trying to help should never be held liable otherwise all you’ll hear is “Is anybody an expert on this?” whenever crap hits the fan. I’m pretty sure common assault laws could cover anybody who deliberately tries to injure some one.
Interesting discussion. Two points: the first to the case, the second to this discussion.
Taking a very high-level view of the case (I’ve only read a few news articles), I personally agree with the Court’s decision. Let’s say I have no medical training and my brother overdoses. If I respond by grabbing my brother’s head and shaking it back and forth in an attempt to keep him from falling asleep, it doesn’t matter whether or not my intent was good or bad; I have exacerbated a bad situation by scrambling my brother’s brains. Ignorance should never be an excuse, even if it’s ignorance with good intentions. (My comment is based on an assumption that Ms. Torti does not have any medical training, which is something I have not been able to find out with a minimal Google search.)
As for Mr. Turley’s comment, “Pouring oil and wine on a wound is grossly negligent as is putting a severely injured man on the back of an animal.” You’re comparing medicine from 2,000 years ago to medicine today. If the Samaritan was acting based on the standard of medical care for that time, then his actions were completely reasonable, however absurd they may seem today. Of course, the Bible (thankfully) doesn’t go into things like Standard of Care, but I think your argument gets caught up in the letter of the text rather than the spirit of the text.
The question boils down to good intentions vs. informed decision-making. From what little I’ve read about this case, Ms. Torti’s actions seem to be the former, which is why I agree with the California Supreme Court.
ABC Video related to this Good Samaritan case:
To Former Federal LEO:
To answer your question about my agreeing with the court’s decision: Though it seems like a purely moral question, strangely enough it’s actually a statistical one, and I lack those statistics. Here’s what I mean: Suppose we consider the set of cases where a layman-intervener either helps or harms a victim (ignoring those where he stops and offers comfort but doesn’t materially alter the course of events). Scenario One: Out of 100 accidents, he helps in 95 and hurts (through incompetence) in 5. BUT, suppose he had simply used his cell phone to call 911 and trained EMTs had done the intervening, and further suppose 93 of the 95 would have been just as well off, and the 5 would never have been harmed. So in Scenario One the results are: 2 helped (who wouldn’t have been) but 5 harmed (who wouldn’t have been). Net: 3 more harmed than helped, a strong argument for discouraging Good Samaritans. Scenario Two: 99 helped, 1 hurt and of the 99 only 70 would have been reached in a timely manner by emergency personnel had 911 been called. So in Scenario Two the results are: 29 helped (who wouldn’t have been) and only 1 harmed (who wouldn’t have been). Net: 28 more helped than harmed, an overwhelming case in favor of encouraging Good Samaritans. Whether Scenario One or Two corresponds more closely to reality I honestly couldn’t begin to say. Not to criticize Jesus (especially at Christmastime!!), but in today’s world, sometimes the moral course can’t necessarily be determined by listening to your heart or by checking your Bible, but by compiling and analyzing statistics. And yet how cold and even repulsive talk of standard deviations and 95% confidence intervals is compared to a deeply touching Parable of Jesus, especially when we’re dealing with life and death matters!!
“Now, you might quickly point out that the statute speaks of ‘emergency care’ NOT medical care, so that THAT argument seems even more irrational than one based on ‘no person’.”
Thank you for your cogent reply. I must admit, although I have a substantive scientific background, legal relevancies often elude me. I am tangentially involved in a legal issue concerning the government. I have solid facts to counter claims but the attorneys state that those facts, although irrefutable, are irrelevant even if it is clear that government officials made false statements in their official governmental Administrative Record.
Therefore, I will never understand legal relevancy or at least never agree with what is relevant or not and the differences between a factual case and a legal case of law.
However, and most importantly, do you agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ms. Torti’s case?
Surely, the legislators should change the law to ensure that emergency help (not specifically given by medical professionals) is covered for nonprofessionals or this will have a chilling influence on good Samaritans throughout California.
To Former Federal LEO:
In clicking on the links provided by Jonathan, it’s clear that the ‘no person’ aspect was irrelevant to the decision. Instead, the majority decided that Ms. Torti had rendered emergency care but not MEDICAL care, and therefore was not protected by the statute. Now, you might quickly point out that the statute speaks of ’emergency care’ NOT medical care, so that THAT argument seems even more irrational than one based on ‘no person’. But the majority found that the SECTION of the statute that contained the phrase ’emergency care’ was one dealing with medical aid, and therefore, by implication, the emergency care in question had to be of a medical nature. Thus, if a layman pulls a drowning man from the water and administers CPR, any injuries to the saved man from the extraction from the water are actionable, but harm from a botched CPR is not.
“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.”
No person emphatically means *no person*. This is one of the reasons why a majority of people rank lawyers at the bottom of the professional fields.
“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.”
Is constitutional law read and interpreted differently at USC than at GWU, and then at…?
How many lawyers does it take to misinterpret the meaning of “NO Person” and how many meanings can they potentially legally extract out of the 1 word No?
Reminds me of the country western song by Ms. Lauri Morgan: “What part of *No* don’t you understand” and she is sangin’ to dumb, drunk cowboys and not to educated and supposed constitutional lawyers like Shapiro and those California Supreme Court justices…or maybe not….
Those judges, with such an imbecilic decision, cast a disparaging light on the name of the singing girl group, “The Supremes”
God bless us all; everyone.
Good Samaritan actions/laws epitomize the ultimate ‘Catch-22’ consequences in life regarding a person’s legal obligations to humankind.
As a former Army Medic and class tutor/honor graduate, a trained and certified First Responder, and with obligations incurred as a LEO to assist a person with first aid, the concerns of potential lawsuits entered my mind because of archaic, conflicting, and often confusing Good Samaritan laws.
Thanks for the interesting parable.
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