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Good sumaritan can be sued with new law change for rendering aid at scene


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3/2/2010
James E. Ballidis
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In 2008 the California Supreme Court issued a ruling that put into jeopardy the ability of a person to render aid at a scene of an accident without being sued later.  At the scene of an accident, a driver pulled her friend from the car after an accident.  It was thereafter alleged the driver caused the passenger greater injury including paralysis.  The passenger sued the driver and was denied a claim by the lower court relying on provisions of Health and Safety code 1799.012, which provided that a person rendering aid at a scene of an accident cannot be held liable for damages for rendering the aid.
 
On appeal however, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court both held that the legislative intent was only to preclude action when giving medical care. Since removing the passenger from the car was not medical care, the statute did not apply, according to the ruling.
 
In swift response, the California legislature rewrote the statute.  Assembly Bill 83 changed the law to read that when someone renders medical and non-medical care at a scene of an accident they are immune from liability.  However, the statute also put in an additional term that the immunity only applies if the care or action taken was not grossly negligent or willfully or wantonly negligent.
 
What is the effect of this change in the law? Suppose that you are involved in an accident and then a good Samaritan comes to your aid.  There is no reason for alarm, you are not in harms way but you have sustained an injury that will not allow you to move.  Should the good Samaritan help you out of the car, possibly causing a lifetime of disability or take you ability to walk away from you?  Probably not.  The person of course should assess whether you should be moved, but if there is no reason at the time, shouldn't he wait for medical personnel.  With the new provisions though, the person will act more cautiously, even at your expense.  The good Samaritan might leave you in the car for fear of a lawsuit.  What if the car is in travel lanes?  You are hit again and now sustain additional injury.
 
I think the legislature got it wrong, because we can always be critical after the fact.  At the heat of the moment, every good Samaritan should be assumed to be acting prudently unless proven otherwise.  Even then, I think if they are acting without compensation and trying to help, they should be protected, even if in hindsight it might be considered by a jury to be grossly negligent.

Category: Car Accidents


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