Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Samaritans, Watch Out

Good Samaritans, Watch Out

This December 19, 2008 Los Angeles Times article
reports on a California Supreme Court decision:
The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a young woman who pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle isn't immune from civil liability because the care she rendered wasn't medical.

The divided high court appeared to signal that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. It was also thought to be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervened in an accident in good faith could be sued.

Lisa Torti of Northridge allegedly worsened the injuries suffered by Alexandra Van Horn by yanking her "like a rag doll" from the wrecked car on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Torti now faces possible liability for injuries suffered by Van Horn, a fellow department store cosmetician who was rendered a paraplegic in the accident that ended a night of Halloween revelry in 2004.
As is often the case, the actual facts of the situation may have prompted the majority to make what I consider a very dangerous decision:
Torti, Van Horn and three other co-workers from a San Fernando Valley department store had gone out to a bar on Halloween for a night of drinking and dancing, departing in two cars at 1:30 a.m., the justices noted as background.

Van Horn was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Anthony Glen Watson, whom she also sued, and Torti rode in the second car. After Watson's car crashed into a light pole at about 45 mph, the rear car pulled off the road and driver Dion Ofoegbu and Torti rushed to help Watson's two passengers escape the wreckage.

Torti testified in a deposition that she saw smoke and liquid coming from Watson's vehicle and feared the car was about to catch fire. None of the others reported seeing signs of an imminent explosion, and Van Horn said in her deposition that Torti grabbed her arm and yanked her out "like a rag doll."

Van Horn's suit alleges negligence by Torti in aggravating a vertebrae injury suffered in the crash, causing permanent damage to the spinal cord.
Perhaps Torti was more observant than the others. Perhaps Torti's nice of drinking caused her to make a bad decision, and fear of imminent explosion was an after the fact rationalization. I am sure that we can all find situations where Torti's actions would still have been justified evne with the injuries that Van Horn suffered. And pretty clearly, there are situations where Torti's actions would have been inappropriate. For example, if this had been a 5 mph fender bender, and Torti had dragged Van Horn out through a broken windshield, cutting her up in the process.

Still, it doesn't seem to me that the California Supreme Court made the right decision from a legal standpoint, or from the standpoint of encouraging individuals to take steps to help others. I know that this decision would make less willing to take action in the aftermath of a traffic accident.

No comments:

Post a Comment