Suing the Good Samaritan: When Good Intentions Cause Serious Harm
California and many other states have enacted so-called “Good Samaritan” laws (named after the biblical story of the good Samaritan). These laws were all enacted with a noble purpose: To encourage individuals to come to the aid of their fellow citizen in distress. These laws act to provide legal protection from suit for a good Samaritan who renders aid to another and who unintentionally causes an injury to the person in need or is unable to help the person in need. This does not mean, however, that good Samaritans can never be held to account when their “good-intentioned” actions cause significant harm.
Exceptions to Good Samaritan Laws
In one notable case, a good Samaritan came upon the scene of a car crash. Believing a motor vehicle occupant involved in the crash was about to catch on fire, the good Samaritan proceeded to move the occupant from the vehicle and to a safe location. In moving that victim, the good Samaritan caused paralysis to the occupant. The occupant sued the good Samaritan, and California’s courts originally ruled that the Good Samaritan statute then in effect did not protect the good Samaritan as the good Samaritan was not rendering “medical care” to the occupant! The legislature thereafter amended the Good Samaritan law to protect individuals providing both medical and non-medical care to another in the event of an emergency.
Although the legislature specifically indicated its intent in passing the amended Good Samaritan law was to encourage others to help those in need, California’s Good Samaritan law still does not protect:
- Those who act for compensation in rendering aid (i.e., a “Good Samaritan” who offers to bandage your wounds for $50*);
- Those who act in a non-emergency situation. What exactly qualifies as a “non-emergency situation” has yet to be clarified by the courts, but it would presumably include situations where there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety or health;
- The good Samaritan acts with “gross negligence” or “willful or wanton misconduct” and thereby causes injury to the victim. This can happen (for example) if the good Samaritan attempts to perform CPR or a tracheotomy without being properly trained and qualified to perform the same.
In these very limited and certain other circumstances, then, those injured by the acts of a good Samaritan may still be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the well-intentioned but harmful good Samaritan.
Is Suing a Good Samaritan Worth it?
A good Samaritan (no matter how well-intentioned he or she may be) can cause as much, if not more, harm than a person who directly causes an injury. In both situations, one should not have to bear the financial burden of resulting injuries. If you or a loved one have been hurtdue to the negligence of another, speak with Heiting & Irwin about your rights and whether you may have a viable claim for compensation. Call (951) 682-6440 or contact us online.
*Emergency personnel are almost always protected by the Good Samaritan Law.