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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Good Samaritans Can Be Sued for Help, Court Says

(CN) - Good Samaritans who injure the person they're attempting to help can be held liable for those injuries if they didn't exercise proper care, the California Supreme Court ruled.

On a 4-3 vote, the justices denied immunity to a woman who pulled her friend from a crashed car, causing the friend to become paralyzed.

Lisa Torti argued that she was immune from Alexandra Van Horn's negligence claim, because she had provided "emergency care at the scene of an emergency" under the Good Samaritan Law.

The state Legislature passed the law to protect those who provide emergency medical care from getting sued by the people they're trying to help.

But in this case, the court ruled, Torti was not able to prove that she had been rendering emergency medical care.

After a night of drinking, Torti, Van Horn and some of their friends were driving home in two cars, when the driver of the car Van Horn was riding in lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a light pole. Torti and the passengers in her car jumped out to help.

Torti claimed she saw smoke and liquid coming out of the other car, so she removed Van Horn by carefully lifting her from the vehicle.

Others testified that there no indications of an imminent explosion, and that Torti had pulled out Van Horn by her arm "like a rag doll."

The "rescue" caused permanent damage to Van Horn's spinal cord and rendered her a paraplegic.

The majority said the law's immunity applies to those who provide emergency medical care and their trainers.

It rejected Torti's claim that the law immunizes "any person who provides any emergency care at the scene of any emergency" (emphasis in original).

In dissent, Justice Baxter argued that the clear language of the law doesn't limit the kind of emergency aid - medical or non-medical - that a Good Samaritan may provide without fear of legal reprisal.


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