Personal Injury: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

In a narrow 4 to 3 decision, the California Supreme Court has elected to narrow the personal injury immunity provided under the “Good Samaritan” statute, Health & Safety Code § 1799.102. In a poorly decided opinion, Van Horn v. Watson, S152360, a slim majority of the California Supreme Court held that § 1799.102’s immunity provisions apply only to those who render medical care at the scene of a medical emergency despite the plain language of the statute providing no such limitation.

Section 1799.102 provides, in pertinent part, “No person who in good faith, and not for
compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable
for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission.”

A well-reasoned dissenting opinion, written by Justice Baxter, was distressed that the majority saw fit to re-write the statute. An act which Justice Baxter and the other two disenting justices felt would cause citizens to withhold assistance at the scene of an emergency for fear of civil liability. As noted by Justice Baxter, the majority’s opinion could result in absurd results where someone who risks their own life to save someone could face civil liability, while a person who had no idea what they were doing, could be immune from liability for rendering harmful medical care.

Hopefully, the Legislature will address this poor decision and re-write § 1799.102 to specifically provide immunity for rendering any form of emergency care at the scene of an emergency, whether it is medical in nature or not.

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