Monday, December 22, 2008

California Supreme Court Redefines Good Samaritan

I was fairly shocked to learn the normally reasonable California Supreme Court  botch a case regarding Good Samaritan laws. An individual--who had been drinking and smoking marijuana--rendered aid at a motor vehicle accident pulling the driver from the allegedly smoking car. The driver suffered traumatic injuries to her liver, requiring surgery, and to her spine. Secondary to either the accident or the extrication, the driver suffered paraplegia and brought a negligence suit against the individual who had extricated her from the vehicle.

At trial, the original court agreed the defendant was covered under the Good Samaritan laws, as would be expected, however, on appeal this decision was overturned. The appeals court found that the statute covers only "emergency medical care" (ed: original emphasis) and not the actions taken by the defendant. Eventually the appeals reached the state supreme court, and the court found in favor of the plaintiff agreeing with the appeals court's finding that the care provided by the defendant--removing the plaintiff from her vehicle--was inconsistant with the language and intent of the applicable Good Samaritan statutes.


Somehow, somewhere, the California Supreme Court has forgotten that removing your patient from harms way is the first step in patient care. Well okay, it comes after your safety, your partner's safety, and any bystander's safety (scene safe? BSI?). Still, if a patient is in a burning car, the first thing to do is remove the patient from the burning car. You cannot be expected to provide emergency medical care if the scene is not safe for you, your partner, or your patient. It stands to reason then, that the most fundamental form of Basic Life Support is removing your patient from danger.

What the California Supreme Court has done with their overly pedantic finding is to redefine a Good Samaritan and to change the rules of the game. The defendant in this case probably should be sued for negligence given all of the other facts in the case, however, they shouldn't be exempt from Good Samaritan laws merely because of a language technicality. People are already hesitant enough to provide bystander care with how lawsuit happy our society is, and now people in California have even less of a reason to provide care. Hopefully the legislature will iron this issue out in the new year.

1 comment:

Rogue Medic said...

I agree. The minority opinion, in this case, says that she did not demonstrate that there was a true emergency. They did not find that she was protected by the Good Samaritan law. They did not need to rewrite the law to include only medical care and only at a medical emergency.

I do expect that the law will be rewritten to state what it did originally - emergency care at an emergency - but it will be rewritten in a way that even the majority of the Supreme Court may understand it.