Good Samaritan Law Broadened in Ohio

     COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the state’s “Good Samaritan” law shields all people — not just medical professionals — who provide care at the scene of an emergency.
     The decision came in a lawsuit from a truck driver whose leg was amputated after it was pinned between his truck and a loading dock.
     Dennis Carter was not injured until he sought help from Larry Reese Jr., an employee at the loading dock, who tried to move the tractor-trailer to free Carter’s leg.
     “Reese climbed into the cab of the truck and put it in neutral before realizing that he did not know how to operate it,” Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote for the 4-3 majority. “Carter recalled that Reese ‘revved up’ the truck three times before he heard the air brake release, and within five seconds of that happening, the trailer rolled backwards and broke his leg.”
     Carter’s broken leg had to be amputated above the knee.
     He sued, Reese asserted the Good Samaritan law, and trial court dismissed, finding that Reese’s actions did not constitute willful or wanton misconduct.
     Carter and his wife appealed, saying the Good Samaritan protection is “limited in scope and application to health care responders providing emergency medical care.”
     Justice O’Donnell found, however, that “if the Legislature had intended that this statute apply only to health care professionals, it could have expressed its intent by using a more limiting phrase such as ‘no health care professional shall be liable in civil damages’ or by naming the categories of individuals it intended to exclude from liability, e.g., physicians or nurses.”
     Carter also claimed the lower courts misconstrued the meaning of “administering emergency care,” a key phrase in the statute. The Carters said that “emergency care” refers only to medical treatment.
     O’Donnell disagreed: “(T)he Ohio General Assembly used the phrase ’emergency care,’ not ’emergency medical care,’ and therefore, its intent is more expansive and includes both medical and nonmedical emergency care.” (Emphasis in original.)
     “Thus, the phrase ‘administering emergency care’ as used in Ohio’s Good Samaritan statute includes rendering medical and any other form of assistance to the safety and well-being of another when the result of an unforeseen combination of circumstances calls for immediate action.”
     Writing in dissent, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said she disagreed with O’Donnell’s interpretation of “administering emergency care.” O’Connor said whether the situation in question was actually an emergency is a question for a jury.
     “I would hold, consistent with other states’ high and appellate courts, that whether a party has properly invoked the application of a Good Samaritan statute is a mixed question of law and fact for the jury, at least in some cases. This is such a case,” O’Connor wrote.
     Justices Sharon Kennedy, Judith French and William O’Neill concurred with O’Donnell.
     Justice Judith Ann Lazinger concurred in dissent, and Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote a separate, brief dissent.
     The Carters were represented by Robert Winter Jr. and Stephanie Collins; Reese by Katherine Clemons and Glenn Markesbery.

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