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.