Good Samaritans Beware

The California Supreme Court ruled this week that in some instances it’s better to be part of the audience than part of the action. The justices determined in the narrowest margin  that people must be more aware of their actions even when they believe it to be an emergency situation. A health and safety code passed nearly 30 years ago will now have a number of limitations placed on it which makes so-called Good Samaritans liable for any additional injuries they cause, unless they are assisting in an emergency situation. The most surprising part of the decision is what is to be considered an emergency. According to the high court, if you break a rib while providing CPR, you’re covered; break a rib while pulling someone from a burning building, forget it. This interpretation of an emergency came as a surprise to some considering lives are clearly endangered in both situations. Also, it appears that personal discretion will not be taken into account when determining what qualifies as an emergency considering this is the question that got this case on the docket.

California resident, Lisa Torti, pulled her friend, Alexandra Van Horn, out of a car she believed was going to explode following an accident. Van Horn was left paralyzed and sued Torti for negligence claiming that she did not need the assistance provided and would not be in the condition she is today if it was not for Torti. The court agreed with Van Horn and decided that in addition to the fact that it was not an emergency, Torti did not use reasonable care when removing her from the car. The court expects that following their decision, citizens of California will not be discouraged from helping but rather will be more cautious when lending a hand.

Although the majority of the court was aiming to ensure that Good Samaritans are still careful when playing the role of hero, other justices and experienced legal advisors disagree. Some are concerned that the new limitations will keep people from stopping to help if they consider the possibility that it could land them in court. The average person may have trouble determining what the reasonableness standard would be when attempting to help someone in danger and even more so when they are distracted by the chaos of what they have deemed an emergency. 

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