Who Is Liable When Good Samaritans Are Seriously or Fatally Injured
In August, a California driver lost control of his vehicle, crashing into a light pole and a fire hydrant and creating an electrical hazard. Two good Samaritans attempted to rush to the driver’s aid and were subsequently electrocuted and killed, reported the Los Angeles Times.
“Traffic collisions can create dangerous situations for those involved or trying to help,” explained California car accident lawyer James Ballidis, “and this was, unfortunately, one of them.”
At approximately 8:25 p.m. on August 23, 19-year-old Arman Samsonian lost control of his vehicle on Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village, skidding into both a light pole and a fire hydrant. Observing the accident, 39-year-old Stacey Lee Schreiber and 40-year-old Irma Zamora rushed to help Samsonian. The light pole and fire hydrant created an electrical hazard. Electricity flowed from the snapped street light into the water and Schreiber and Zamora were hit with as much as 4,800 volts of power. Both were electrocuted and died at the accident scene.
Liability for the Deaths of the Good Samaritans
In many fatal accident situations, the family members of the victims are able to take action against those who are responsible for the fatalities. Wrongful death damages can be based on negligence if the party or entity responsible for causing a death behaves in a careless manner. Wrongful death damages can also be based on strict liability if some person or entity violates a safety law and a death directly results from that violation.
In the deaths of the good Samaritans, however, imposing liability may be challenging for the family members. There are two potential defendants that might potentially be considered responsible for the deaths of Schrieber and Zamora: the driver of the vehicle and the government entity who designed and maintained the area where the accident occurred.
An argument for governmental liability could potentially be made if the government created a dangerous situation by placing the fire hydrant and light pole in such close proximity that electrocution was a likely result. However, there are a number of obstacles to imposing liability on the government.
Government entities are entitled to certain protections from lawsuits, as set forth in the California Government Code section 817. According to the relevant code section, unless otherwise provided by law, “A public entity is not liable for injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.” California Government code section 830 establishes exceptions to the protections provided in section 817, mandating that a government entity can be liable if they create or permit a dangerous condition that presents a substantial risk.
Whether a substantial risk exists is determined on a case-by-case basis. When such a risk exists, the government can be held liable for harm that is foreseeably caused by the risk if the government property is used in the manner intended.
In this case, it is questionable whether the placement of the street light and fire hydrant created any type of substantial risk when used as intended. It is also questionable as to whether it was foreseeable that a car would hit both the pole and the hydrant, creating an electrocution hazard. Finally, the car accident itself was an intervening incident; thus, the government’s placement of the hydrant and light pole was not the direct cause of the accident. Liability for negligence of any type is typically imposed only if the negligence is the but for or proximate cause of the accident.
Liability of the Driver
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the driver of the vehicle involved in the crash is currently being investigated for excessive speed. While no charges have currently been filed against the driver, if he was found to have been speeding, he was in violation of a safety law. His violation or negligent behavior could be argued to have been a direct cause of the deaths of Schrieber and Zamora. If he had not been involved in the crash, the two victims would not have come to his aid.
However, there are again questions raised as to whether the particular harm was foreseeable here or a direct cause of Samsonian’s actions. Further, Schrieber and Zamora made their own decision to help Samsonian when they were under no legal obligation to do so, so it may be argued that they assumed the risk of potential harm when they made this choice.
While it is not immediately clear if the families of these two good Samaritans will be able to hold the driver or the city government liable for the fatal accident, they have, fortunately, received some financial assistance with the funeral expenses from the community, reported KNBC, channel 4.
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