CA Supreme Court Ruling Effectively Overturns Good Samaritan Law

As of December 18, 2008, helping someone in need just became risky and complicated.  In a split decision, the California Supreme Court determined that if you attempt to render non-medical assistance to someone (even if as part of a rescue attempt,) you can be held personally liable for any injury that the victim may claim you caused or made worse by your actions.  The dissenting justices expressed concerns that the entire purpose of the Good Samaritan act, to encourage people to help those in need, rather that walking on by, was in grave danger by the ruling.  Nevertheless, in this case, the distinction prevailed.

The case in question was an accident.  One of the parties in the crash pulled the other from her vehicle.  The plaintiff claims it was unnecessary, as there was no eminent threat posed by her remaining in the car, and that she was pulled from a car “like a rag doll,” allegedly aggravating a vertebrae injury, leaving her paraplegic.  The CA Supreme Court made distinction between medical care (which is protected under the Good Samaritan law, so long as the care is determined to be reasonable,) and this action, which allegedly caused further harm to the already injured woman.

California is not alone in this position.  Several other states restrict the type of aid one may give without risk of civil liability.  Oklahoma, for example, only protects those providing CPR and stopping bleeding.   Some states restrict the immunity of the Good Samaritan law to reasonable care provided by trained medical professionals.  Even then, this case demonstrates that you could be sued for what you did prior to administering that medical care.

Whether the plaintiff was “thrown like a rag doll” or not is for the courts to decide.  What matters to healthcare professionals is that they become familiar with the laws of the state they’re in, and be conscious of the distinction between rendering aid and rendering medical care. There is no mandate to provide care; coming to the aid of someone encountered on the street is not legally obligatory.

Many Professional Malpractice policies will only cover you while you’re acting in your official capacity, on the job.  Protect yourself by knowing your policy’s coverages and exemptions in this regard.  We here at Presidio encourage you to call us to find out more about this aspect, or to evaluate your Medical Malpractice policy coverages.

3 thoughts on “CA Supreme Court Ruling Effectively Overturns Good Samaritan Law”

  1. While the outcome of this case is unfortunate and seems to be unfair, in my opinion the title and tone of your interpretation do a disservice to the emergency response and preparedness industry. The most challenging goal in working with lay rescuers is to break down the emotlional barriers inhibiting emergency response. Media (of which I include this article) often do not tell the whole story and stress the most negative elements of a given ruling. As you can see in this recent article written by Bob Taggart, an EMT and attorney with Annuvia (, there are several encouraging elements of the ruling.

  2. Mr. Bongberg,

    You wrote “The most challenging goal in working with lay rescuers is to break down the (sic emotional) barriers inhibiting emergency response.”

    I’d have to disagree wholeheartedly. The concept of “First do no harm” is a far higher calling. Remember all of the neck and spine injuries sustained years ago when laymen arrived on a scene and moved patients? It took a lot of educating to get people clear about NOT moving someone unless there was eminent danger in leaving the victim in place.

    In one gruesome accident I stopped for, the local EMTs (and laymen) wanted to wake and to move the single-car accident victim. He was so intoxicated that smoking nearby might have been dangerous, had no evident head trauma. His drunken stupor was all that kept him from being unmanagable, as he’d sustained multiple compound fractures to the legs, and the brake pedal was lodged in his ankle, nearly bisecting it. The pedal was all that kept him from bleeding out right then and there. Waking him was ill-advised, and moving him before we were prepared to get him out completely and quickly along the 45 miles to the hospital was tantamount to killing him. When the paramedics finally did arrive with jaws, 45 minutes later, it still took another 20 minutes to cut and pry him free of the vehicle. As you can see, the problem was in keeping people from acting, not the opposite.

    I’m not seeing any slant in this article (which you’re calling Media.) It seems to be properly journalistic, reporting the facts and issues without making ethical choice in any direction. The last paragraph is simply saying that health care professionals should know where their coverage starts and stops, since it usually does not protect from a lawsuit if they’re acting outside of their professional circumstance.

    Finally, having read the article referenced, I see no substantial difference. It seems, therefore, that the entire purpose of your post was to slide in a plug and link for your company. To present a baseless allegation just to promote your own company is … well, not terribly surprising, but disappointing. Perhaps your company should hire qualified professional SEO services if you want to promote your company online, rather than coming into Presidio’s virtual home and insulting their neutral-biased and well-intended efforts.

    With all due respect,


  3. Pingback: Nurse refuses to do CPR on elderly woman in California Nursing home...

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