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Careful before you help

2008-12-19 16:16:47.238726+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

Careful before you help: California Supreme Court allows good Samaritans to be sued for nonmedical care.

The divided high court appeared to signal that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. It was also thought to be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervened in an accident in good faith could be sued.

[ related topics: Law California Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-19 16:49:13.607376+00 by: petronius

I thought the "Good Smaritan" acts for medical personnel were sorted out years ago. The idea was that if doctor walking down the street sees you drop from a heart attack, he is immune from malpractice if he gives you CPR. otherwise, he might leave you to your fate. Most such acts specifically excluded escues within medical facilities, so if you dropped in the hospital lobby all normal sanctions are in operation.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-19 17:26:26.816638+00 by: JT

When I was an EMT in Texas we were told not to touch or handle any accident or person with a medical condition where we were trained to help unless we were officially dispatched there through proper channels. If we did anything while we weren't on official business or on duty and were sued (malpractice or not), we would lose our license and never be able to get it back.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-19 19:27:01.825031+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

I remember a few incidents when I was whitewater guiding, a bystanding doctor would be plenty happy to instruct people who were helping but extremely reticent to actually touch anyone. And in my own CPR/BLS training, we were told that we were pretty protected if we tried to help someone as long as once we touched them we continued rescue efforts to the limits of our training until professional help arrived and took over. So there was a strong undercurrent of "do your triage without touching, and don't touch if you think they're gonna live."

And the guides who were EMTs had a different set of rules from those of us who just had the "CPR for the professional rescuer" level of training (although the "supplemental oxygen for hung over guides in the morning" was probably not per regulations...).

It sounds like what this does is toss the fate of a potential rescuer back to a jury, which seems directly counter to the notion of what the "good samaritan" law was supposed to accomplish. Coupled with liability law that often leaves those found to have fractional responsibility for a situation ending up paying for the full amount if those with the primary responsibility are unable to pay, this means I'm going to be veeery careful if I'm first on the scene.

But I should re-up my CPR, I believe a lot has changed since I was last certified.

(I should also note that if I'm ever in an accident, I definitely don't want the woman who lost this case "rescuing" me.)

#Comment Re: Samaritans Are Not All The Same made: 2008-12-24 08:14:20.579532+00 by: VonRiesling [edit history]

I saw an accident scene recently where there was fluid coming from one of the cars in the middle of a busy Los Angeles intersection. It was radiator fluid, since the front of the car was smashed. The person behind the wheel was groggy and out of it (post airbag deployment) but otherwise breathing and conscious. Cell phones were out, calls were made.

It's fairly common knowledge not to move a trauma victim who is stable, lest ye cause further injury, but a woman who had stopped her car mid-lane decided the fluid on the ground was gas (sure to explode, watch any movie) and "heroically" pulled the poor woman from the car, through flowing traffic to the “safety” of a curb.

She was was screaming at bystanders to help. Some of those bystanders told her not to move the victim. In such a case I don’t feel sorry for the “Retarded Samaritan” no matter her motives.

Good intent should not indemnify against foolish acts.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-24 15:24:58.723334+00 by: JT

A good rule of thumb is to never touch anyone unless you're sure they will die without assistance. It seems this woman was sure the person in the car would die when her car exploded, so there's no accounting for ignorance.