Generally, a person has no duty to come to the aid of another. However, if a person elects to come to someone’s aid, the rescuer had a duty to exercise due care. Good Samaritan laws provide an exception to this due care requirement. The Good Samaritan laws are meant to protect those individuals who choose to tend to another person who is injured. The goal is to reduce the rescuer’s hesitation to assist the injured person in fear of a prosecution or lawsuit. As a matter of public policy, some jurisdictions implement Good Samaritan laws to prevent reluctance in assisting an injured person. The laws vary from one jurisdiction to another. Some states actually expand protection to any person who acts reasonably under the conditions.
In California, the Health and Safety Code 1799.102 governs the Good Samaritan laws. According to the Code, no person who acts in good faith rendering emergency care at the scene of an emergency, shall be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omission by such person rendering the emergency care.
The landmark Alexander Van Horn v. Lisa Torti (45 Cal.4th 322 (2008)) further analyzes the scope of Section 1799.102. The California Supreme Court held Torti liable for the injuries suffered by Van Horn when Torti yanked her from the car “like a rag doll.” Van Horn was in the front passenger seat when the car slammed into a light pole at 45 miles per hour. Torti, who was following the wrecked the car, ran to Van Horn’s and carried Van Horn out of the car. Van Horn argued the injuries rendered her a paraplegic. The court held the statute immunizes rescuers from liability only if the individual is actually providing “medical” care in an emergency situation. Pulling Van Horn out the corn was considered “medical.” Therefore, Torti was found liable for the injuries.
As explained by the court, It is the intent of California Legislature for the Code to promote development, accessibility and provision of emergency of medical services to the people of the State of California. California exercises a policy of encouraging and training persons to assist others at the scene of a medical emergency. Pursuant to Section 1799.107, ‘medical services’ is defined as, but not limited to, first aid and medical services, rescue procedures and transportation, or other related activities necessary to insure the health or safety of a person in imminent peril. Ultimately, a “Good Samaritan” doges liability if they perform emergency “medical” services, rather than non-medical.
The California Good Samaritan Acts provides immunity to emergency medical service personnel, including firefighters, police officers, and EMT. If such individuals render emergency medical services at the scene of an emergency shall only be liable in civil damages for acts or omissions performed in a grossly negligent manner or not in good faith. Gross negligence is a conscious, blatant disregard of the need to use reasonable care.
In nutshell, a “good Samaritan” may be liable if he attempt he or she fails to exercise due care and causes harm when rescuing an injured person. Many would argue that California needs to re-examine its law to protect everybody, as a matter of public policy. Such an interpretation of the law any thwart people’s willingness to give aid.