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Saturday, December 20, 2008

No Good Deed Goes...Court Says Good Samaritans Can Be Sued

This story from California bugged me, not just the inherent injustice of someone being punished for doing a good deed, but because it also could apply to any of us... even here in Washington state, or wherever you live too.

The case, Van Horn v Torti, pits Alexandra Van Horn, who was injured as a passenger in a car that slammed into a light pole at 45 mph in November of 2004, against Lisa Torti who was a co-worker and friend of Van Horn's following in a car behind Van Horns who attempted to pull Van Horn out of the vehicle in the fear that her car might ignite in to flame.

Van Horn now blames Torti for her being paralyzed and has brought suit against Torti for damages, and the California Supreme Court has given the lawsuit a green light based on the assumption that the state's Good Samaritan Law only protects you when administering emergency medical care, not when you attempt to rescue others from potentially life threatening situations, like pulling a drowning victim out of the water or pulling someone from a burning car.

Think something like that can only happen in crazy California? Think again.

In 2005 Washington state governor Christine Gregiore signed a Good Samaritan Law that made it a crime for a person to not render aid to a person who has suffered physical harm.

Yet, the still existing Good Samaritan Liability Law on the books for Washington state only provides protection from liability while performing medical aid on persons already injured and does not cover rescue or other similar actions, just as the one in California is worded.

Worse, here in Washington state, you would be stuck in a catch-22, liable to be sued if you help, subject to criminal charges if you don't...

But, here's a warning for readers elsewhere, these kinds of laws are usually similar from state to state because each state usually just follows suit from the first one that wrote that kind of law. So I recommend you check up on your own laws before you think about doing anything helpful too.

All things considered, it really looks like we all might need to think twice before we try to help our fellow humans in need... because the law now seems ready to enforce the idea that no good deed should go unpunished.

It's chilling to think that it seems as though when I attempted to break up a stabbing I witnessed that night in November that I could have very well been sued for intervening to save that guy's life on top of being beaten and wrongfully arrested for it. Yet another reason to definitely think twice about doing that again now.


Anonymous said...

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Not only has this woman reached a new low in the rush to sue some one but she has also managed to cause half the world to think she is a B*%^&. To bad the crash didn’t kill her instead as now when someone see’s a person drowning or being malled by an animal they will have to stop and think can I save the person without risking everything I have? This is the worst case of faliure to see from the other persons point of view I have ever seen. Imagine how bad Lisa Torti feels about this. She has inadvertanley parilized her friend when all she wanted to do was protect her!!! If Van Horn continues with this it will not only be a travesty of justice but will single handedly bring to an end many good samaratin acts. WAY to go Alexandra Van Horn

Packratt said...

I agree, it's the most shameful part of this story and there are some reports out there that suggest it was Van Horn herself that might have asked Torti and her other friends with her that night to pull her from the car.

It's also the carelessness with which these laws were crafted that make this problematic. Think back to all the times you've helped others and now we ponder how those times might have exposed us to risk of liability, I know that's what I did when I read this story and now I wonder if I could do it again...

Thanks for the comment!

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