Can Good Samaritans be sued for providing medical help?

A controversial ruling in California is making people think twice before stopping to help.

California’s Supreme Court has ruled that “the state’s ‘Good Samaritan’ law providing tort immunity for rescuers applies only to medical personnel providing medical help at an emergency scene, and not to civilians.”

But are physicians really protected? This doctor cites colleagues who are “afraid to stop at the scene of an accident and render aid for fear of being sued.”

What about doctors who are not versed in emergency care? Should radiologists and pathologists be comforted by the protections offered in Good Samaritan laws?

I’m on the side of GruntDoc. Trying to add nuance to the language of Good Samaritan laws will only add confusion, increasing the odds that many who can help will simply drive on by.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Mark Scrimshire

    May be we will eventually see the state being named in a class action suit for inhibiting help being administered at the scene of an accident.

  • Rogue Medic

    The Legislature will probably rewrite the law to try to avoid this misinterpretation by 4 naive justices. Naive, when it comes to understanding the meaning of emergency assistance.

  • Anonymous

    So in case of a fire, you’re supposed to call 911 and just watch the victim(s) suffer?

  • Kim

    I had a coworker warn me I shouldn’t walk around BLS certified without personal liability insurance…I didn’t realize how right she was.

  • Anonymous

    Why is she right? Are you planning on drinking and then “rescuing” someone who is not in an emergency situation by doing exactly the wrong thing?

  • Rogue Medic

    Anonymous 3:17,

    The reason to carry liability insurance is to protect against judgments. You do not have to be drunk to be on the losing side.

    The minority opinion, in this case, was that she does not deserve immunity from liability, because there is little reason to believe that a true emergency existed. The minority justices did not see any need to rewrite the law to come to this conclusion.

    The purpose of the law is not to protect drunk and stoned people. The purpose is to prevent people from being sued for incidental damage. For example, you pull someone out of a car that is actually burning, but you break their arm. You have caused an injury. They would probably have been worse off, if you left them in the car. Without the Good Samaritan law, you are liable for that injury that you caused or contributed to.

    The actual ruling is here. I recommend strong coffee. The first half is the majority opinion. That is the part I disagree with. The second part is the minority dissent. The dissenting justices find that she is not protected by the Good Samaritan law. I do not think you will have a problem with their reasoning.

  • GiggleMed

    Regardless of the rulings and opinions, what concerns me is that the attention this receives will undoubtedly cause a lot of good-hearted, well-intentioned people to give pause before acting.

    You can imagine what I was thinking when a patient told me that she had a history of a “tubal litigation” :0)

  • Rogue Medic

    GiggleMed,

    She sues people on the subway? :-)

Most Popular