CA Good Samaritans to receive protection

March 12, 2009 11:56:30 PM PDT
A California lawmaker wants to make it less risky for people to come to the aid of accident victims. Some people might hesitate to do the right thing, for fear of getting sued.

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Good Samaritans generally hope to make a difference when they come across an emergency situation. That philosophy helped the elderly driver of a sinking car last week.

"They opened the back door so I could get out, and they gave me this jacket. God bless them because they are some good guys. I don't even know their names, but whoever they are, they're good people," says Liz Holland, an accident victim.

But if you cause an injury trying to rescue someone, you could be sued -- forcing do-gooders to think twice before helping. That could change soon in California.

In a rare, unanimous vote, 74-0, the state Assembly passed legal protections for you.

"The message of today is, in our country, we owe duties and responsibilities to each other. And the law will come to your aid when you come to someone else's," says Assembly member Mike Feuer (D) of Los Angeles.

Right now, California liability law protects only medical professionals when they're at the scene of an emergency. The state's high court affirmed in December no else comes under that protection.

The California Supreme Court ruling was based on a 2004 accident in Southern California. A crash victim claimed her co-worker yanked her like a ragdoll from a car wreck, rendering her a paraplegic. The justices said that rescuer could be liable.

Trial lawyer groups dropped their formal opposition when the proposal was amended to say there's no legal immunity if the Good Samaritan acts with gross negligence. Torts expert Larry Levine says that means there's still a small chance rescuers could be liable.

"Gross negligence will be close to recklessness, where there's a conscious disregard of a high probability of harm, more than just unreasonable conduct, more that you should have been more careful," says Professor Larry Levine, J.D., McGeorge School of Law.

The Good Samaritan Protection Act heads to the Senate next.

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