In the United States, there is a term for the selfless people who choose help and assist the victims of car accidents. A “Good Samaritan.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are afraid of becoming Good Samaritans not only because they do not want to risk their own life, but also because they are afraid of legal consequences.
You have probably heard numerous stories of car accident witnesses trying to assist victims and being sued for their “help.” If someone is in need of immediate care, people in California and all across the U.S. are reluctant to get involved for legal reasons. There are many legal obligations and liabilities you must be aware of if you decide to help someone who has been injured in a car accident before your eyes.
Can you be sued for trying to help car accident victims?
A San Diego car accident attorney from the Law Office of Edward J. Babbitt, APC, also reminds our readers about the other type of “Good Samaritans,” who come to the rescue of those in need of help, and end up sustaining serious injuries or even dying while attempting to render aid.
An estimated about 80 people in the U.S. die each year attempting to rescue people in need of immediate care.
But we are going to focus on the Good Samaritans who end up getting sued for trying to assist those in distress at the scene of a car accident. Can you actually be sued for aggravating a car crash victim’s injuries or causing death even though you were genuinely trying to help?
Can being a Good Samaritan get you in trouble with the law?
Turns out, California lawmakers have improved the state’s Good Samaritan laws in recent years, protecting those whose only intention was to render aid in good faith. Most Good Samaritans at car accident scenes are not medically trained to render first aid, and until 2009, witnesses could be held liable for any added injuries.
Californian lawmakers decided to pass a Good Samaritan law in 2007, after the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Van Horn and Watson. In that case, Van Horn suffered injuries in a Los Angeles car accident after a collision with a light pole. Her friend, Watson, rushed to her rescue and pulled her out of the car, fearing that the vehicle could erupt in flames or blow up.
Van Horn filed a personal injury lawsuit against her friend, Watson, after she was permanently paralyzed with a spinal injury. The plaintiff argued that she was not in imminent danger when Watson pulled her from the wreckage. What is more, Van Horn claims that she insisted that she did not want to be moved, but Watson did it anyway.
In her lawsuit, Van Horn also claimed that Watson pulled her out of the vehicle “like a rag-doll” by one arm, which was the primary cause of her permanent paralysis. The lawsuit became a groundbreaking case for California’s personal injury system. Initially, Watson won the lawsuit on the ground of immunity under the Good Samaritan statute. But later, an appeals decision reversed the court ruling, offering an explanation that Good Samaritan immunity protections apply only to those “rendering emergency care.” In the Van Horn vs. Watson case, the defendant did not render medical aid nor did she help the victim in any way besides pulling her out of the vehicle.
What if your injuries were caused by a person trying to ‘help’ you?
But why does the Van Horn vs. Watson case matter? Our experienced car accident attorney in San Diego explains that this specific case triggered a firestorm of reactions. As a result of the backlash, California lawmakers amended the Good Samaritan law to expand protections to Good Samaritans who both render emergency medical and nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency. Therefore, these people cannot be held liable for any damages and injuries resulting from the act of assistance or omission.
The only exception is if the care or assistance was provided irresponsibly. “Therefore, it can be rather subjective when determining whether a person acted responsibly or irresponsibly,” says our San Diego car accident attorney. “It could still be possible to bypass the immunity protections by claiming gross negligence, recklessness, ill-will or bad faith.”
Are you being sued for helping a car accident victim? Or have your injuries been aggravated or caused by a Good Samaritan’s “help” at the scene of a car crash? Consult with our lawyers at the Law Office of Edward J. Babbitt, APC, to find out more about your rights, obligations, and protections.