Good Samaritan Laws

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I’m not sure this is the “lawsuits gone wild” case some people are making it out to be. Seems like a much tougher call to me.

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the state’s high court on Thursday said a would-be Good Samaritan accused of rendering her friend paraplegic by pulling her from a wrecked car “like a rag doll” can be sued.

[…]

Alexandra Van Horn was in the front passenger seat of a car that slammed into a light pole at 45 mph on Nov. 1, 2004, according to her negligence lawsuit.

Torti was a passenger in a car that was following behind the vehicle and stopped after the crash. Torti said when she came across the wreck she feared the car was going to explode and pulled Van Horn out. Van Horn testified that Torti pulled her out of the wreckage “like a rag doll.” Van Horn blamed her friend for her paralysis.

Whether Torti is ultimately liable is still to be determined, but Van Horn’s lawsuit can go forward, the Supreme Court ruled.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume Torti’s actions caused Van Horn’s paralysis, and that the car wasn’t actually on fire (meaning there was no imminent threat to Van Horn’s life). Should Torti’s obviously good intent allow her to duck liability? We want to encourage good Samaritans, but do we want to encourage reckless good Samaritans.

I’m really not sure, here. What say you, Agitator readers?

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

94 Responses to “Good Samaritan Laws”

  1. #1 |  OGRE | 

    This is the type of situation best left to a jury, I think. Lets see what a consensus of citizens thinks when presented with the factual scenario and given an opportunity to hash it out.

    I don’t think there should be any immunity for being a good samaritan. At most immunity for simple negligence, but definitely not for gross negligence or some other significant breach of duty. Although I’m not sold on that.

    I’m sure we can think of plenty of scenarios where we would think liability is clear and others where its not. So the question is–as always–in its simplest form: “was the defendant acting reasonably?”

  2. #2 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It’s probably best to feign injury when you’re involved in a car wreck. If you have no physical injury, you should just sit there, twitching and sobbing.

    Of course, it’s a personal decision and, regardless of the likelihood of a lawsuit, I’m sure there will always be plenty of people who would gladly risk their life savings and retirement security in the name of helping the injured.

  3. #3 |  Ron | 

    OK, I’ll bite. Just because the car was not actually on fire does not mean there was no possibility of explosion. The defendant feared an explosion. In the absence of visible flames the Samaritan more than likely smelled the heavy odor of gas fumes from shredded fuel lines if not a gashed gas tank. Remember cars have batteries and electrical circuits. If she also saw what appeared to be smoke which she likely did whether or not there was in fact, a fire, an explosion is not out of the question and one can conclude in such a scenario that the defendant acted reasonably.

    Furthermore, once a car in this situation does catch fire, that often makes rescuing a trapped occupant impossible. So I’d say making the presence of visible fire the maion standard for fearing an imminient explosion as unreasonable.

  4. #4 |  Lou W | 

    Having had friends who are EMTs I’m well aware of the major risk that incautiously removing someone from a car accident can cause a spinal injury. But I don’t expect most people to know that.

    Further, pulling her out of the car wouldn’t have damaged her spine unless there was significant damage from the accident already – in fact she may already have had spinal damage.

    So, horrible situation, but I don’t see how you can hold the Samaritan accountable.

  5. #5 |  Marty | 

    I’ve been a paramedic for over 20 years… good samaritan laws have been part of the foundation that first responders have always operated under. I’m very mixed on this. Obviously, people should have the ability to sue when they feel they’ve been wronged. However, (and I say this without having a good understanding of the legal system) it seems like we could be opening the floodgates for litigation.

    I find a huge amount of scam artists utilize the 911/emergency resources. People faking injuries for ‘cabulance’ rides, people trying to tourque stores out of money with ‘slip and fall’ schemes, people calling because they were in very minor collisions and their ‘lawyer hurts’. It appears there are lots of lawyers who’ve built a business on working settlements out of insurance companies for these people.

    Having the courts determine true emergencies in medicine is scarier than having the courts determine how much pain medicine a physician should be allowed to administer… There are many considerations- weather, traffic, distance to hospital, mechanism of injury, alcohol, drugs, age etc, that factor into an ‘emergency’. To say the broken back in this car accident wasn’t a true emergency (as the article implies) is very interesting to me. The force of impact suggests the potential for many other injuries- spinal shock, internal injuries, etc. I would certainly have looked at treating this as a serious emergency.

    I guess I wouldn’t have such a feeling of dread about this if we could look at somehow limiting frivolous lawsuits…

  6. #6 |  AV | 

    Combine the no immunity for Good Samaritans with the laws requiring people to aid others and you get a literal damned if you do/ damned if you don’t scenario.

    Given the number of convictions of the innocent that we have seen on this site, why would any rational person want to put their financial security on the line in front of a jury?

    If there is no immunity, then people can get themselves out of their wrecked cars. Perhaps they can call their lawyers to extricate them.

  7. #7 |  Col. Hogan | 

    One thing can be predicted: if Torti is found liable, many individuals who face a similar situation will just pass on by and let the bloody car burn.

  8. #8 |  MacK | 

    Look at this way: did her pulling the accident victim cause the injury, or was it caused by the accident. I would bet I could pull Radley from his vehicle about 200 – 300 times like a rag doll and still not injure him. Let Radley hit a light pole at 45 mph, 200 – 300 times, and lets see if he then ends up with some injuries. Most would agree the original accident probably causes the injuries, not the attempted act of pulling the victim to safety.

    What is really dangerous here is that if a good Samaritan is liable for injuries caused (possibly) by them, then few will be a good Samaritan.

    Right now a person has no compulsion to aid another person. One thing that has allowed good Samaritans to exist are so called Good Samaritan Acts, they protected would be saviors from civil or criminal prosecutions. Throw out this immunity, and you can start throwing out rescues by ordinary citizens.

    I for one would not assist my fellow human beings, if it meant that I would lose my life’s savings, my wife due to the financial hardships this would put on our marriage, my home, my children due to my incarceration (criminal charges would start to apply soon after civil liabilities). Once we start down a slippery slope, we always slide faster as time goes on.

    Imagine you come upon a scene where a person has hit something like a tree, and the car is mangled, steam is coming from the radiator (looks like smoke), the person in the car is not completely coherent, your heart is pounding as hard as possible (kinda like the SWAT has just kicked your door in at 3am).
    What are your thoughts going to be? I should help this person, or if I help this person my life may be ruined.

    To finally end my rant, and answer Radley’s question:
    Yes her OBVIOUSLY GOOD INTENT should allow her to duck liability.

  9. #9 |  Chris in AL | 

    I was in a similar situation a few years back. A dump truck driver rolled his truck as he was coming towards me. I avoided his truck, but a few tons of asphalt slag hit me like a tidal wave, sandblasting the hell out of my car.

    Anyway, the truck was laying on the driver side. The driver was inside, literally laying on the pavement because the side glass had busted out. A tank of hydraulic fluid, used to raise and lower the dump, was mounted right behind the cab and was leaking thru a break in the rear window and dripping all over the driver.

    The man’s neck was clearly at funny angle and his breathing was labored. Me and a couple other drivers that had stopped faced the same decision. I literally had to think about all the possibilities. Maybe we save him. Maybe we paralyze him. Maybe we kill him.

    That is a lot of maybes. My ability to support my family was on my mind. My kid’s college. In this sue happy country, even if it is proved I saved his life, either he, his family, or even his insurance company could sue me for contributing to his paralysis. I chose to not to move him.

    The next person to show up was an off duty EMT. He listened to the guy’s breathing and decided we had to move him. Together we kicked in the back glass and wrestled him out of there. As soon as his neck was straight his breathing normalized. The guy was driving again a week later.

    But now, the next time it happens I don’t have to work the whole decision through again. I am not moving anybody unless it is ordered by someone in authority. Sorry, but it is the only way to protect my family…which is my first duty. I can’t get sued out of my house and tell my son it is because of some clown whose life I saved, but that sued me anyway.

  10. #10 |  Marty | 

    #3 | Ron-

    You raise a good point with her fear of possible explosion. Many people who see a car after an airbag deploys feel there could be an explosion. It smells bad, there’s talcum powder hanging in the air…

    People frequently smell anti-freeze or transmission fluid and are worried about explosions…

    There’s further danger if bystanders try to help and the airbag HASN”T deployed. Imagine an airbag exploding because a sensor was accidentally tripped… good samaritan and victim alike are at risk.

  11. #11 |  John | 

    I’d be very wary of attaching liability to someone who helped in this situation, even if their help went tragically wrong. We really have to look at this as what kind of message this sends to the next person to happen on an accident. Personally, I would be dialing 911 and just following the instructions of the operator. They would be the best to judge when someone must be moved, and it really removes most of my liability.

  12. #12 |  Tyler | 

    If she acted negligently, she acted negligently. Her motivation is (or should be) irrelevant, except insofar as there is a claim advanced against her for punitive/aggravated/exemplary damages. As a matter of law, that seems simple enough to me.

    I went and checked and the lawyer referred to as representing the defendant is an insurance defence lawyer. I would assume that there’s at least one and maybe two insurers involved here. I’m not sure that the concerns raised above about financial ruin on the part of the rescuer are particularly valid ones.

  13. #13 |  Michael Pack | 

    In this country we have turned accidents and negligence in to crimes .Even behavior that hurts no one can carry a jail sentence.Do we really want to now civilly punish those who try,through good intentions,to help others.This lady ,in her mind,put her own life at risk to save another.I say fault lies with the driver.

  14. #14 |  Robert | 

    Torti. What an ironic name hes has to be caught in this situation.

    If the person has been trained in how to handle accidents ( EMT, etc. ) and causes injury due to negligence, then a suit should be allowed.

    If the person has NOT been trained and attempts to help, the suit should not be allowed.

  15. #15 |  Robert | 

    She, not he. Sorry.

  16. #16 |  Whim | 

    I’ve been around a few good Samaritans during an emergency who were panicking and not thinking straight.

    Good Samaritan actions should be governed by the situation.

    If there’s a fire, remove the person from the car as carefully as possible.

    If no fire, and a quick check shows the victim is not in danger of bleeding out, then wait for the arrival of the EMT.

  17. #17 |  Jay C. | 

    Radley: I cannot abide by what the Supreme Court wants to discover in these proceedings. I mean, no laws are absolute, and you can’t hide criminal activity behind Good Samaritan Law (say, I stalk someone and I am oh-so-lucky to see them get into an accident and I take that opportunity to hurt them more), but the civil lawsuit based on damages? I think this would simply discourage people from trying to do the right thing.

    At the same time, if you don’t know how to help an injured person, maybe the best way to do the right thing is to stand back, call 911 and leave it to the pros. If this case makes it to the Supreme Court I’m betting that any sort of EMS organization may file an amicus brief regarding this issue, too.

  18. #18 |  MacK | 

    #12 | Tyler
    “I would assume that there’s at least one and maybe two insurers involved here. I’m not sure that the concerns raised above about financial ruin on the part of the rescuer are particularly valid ones.”

    If you are insured for $100,000 and a judgment of say $500,000 comes down against you, your insurer is not going to make up that $400,000 difference. Your kids college, your home equity, your savings, portions of your weekly paycheck, is where the remainder shall come from.

  19. #19 |  Marty | 

    #14 Robert-

    ‘If the person has been trained in how to handle accidents ( EMT, etc. ) and causes injury due to negligence, then a suit should be allowed.’

    Negligence has never been protected by good samaritan laws, to my knowledge.

    ‘If the person has NOT been trained and attempts to help, the suit should not be allowed.’

    I would like to know if the woman in the care accident ever said ‘no’ to people trying to help. If care was forced on her by bystanders, that would be a whole different ball of wax…

  20. #20 |  nobahdi | 

    She should also sue Hollywood for perpetuating the myth that cars easily explode after crashes. Unless there are open flames AND gasoline spraying into the air the car will not explode. And if both of those are there, forget about rescue, I’d want to be as far away from that fireball as possible.

  21. #21 |  Chris in AL | 

    Exactly what insurance covers my actions in a good samaritan case? None that I know of. If it is not my property, my homeowners ins. isn’t going to get involved. If I parked my car on the shoulder 20 yards away and walked over and paralyzed somebody, my auto ins. isn’t going to pay for my actions.

    But their insurer might well sue the hell out of me, even if the person doesn’t. The individual might be magnanimous enough to say they aren’t going to sue someone clearly trying to help…but an insurance company will do ANYTHING to help defer any of their cost. Even wiping out everything I have.

    Sorry. Fire or no fire, I am not touching you. I will stop and I will call 911. That way, if you die it is because you wrecked your car. As soon as I touch you, anything that happens after that is because a person without medical training touched you.

    All some dirtbag lawyer has to do is convince 12 goobers that couldn’t get out of jury duty that it is all my fault and I am ruined. Sorry, I am not playing.

  22. #22 |  Bob | 

    It WAS left to a jury. That jury exonerated Torti. It seems to me, that jury was saying “You had an accident. Your friend screwed up, but she was trying to help.”

    Yes, technically… Torti was being negligent when she pulled her from the car. The smart money was to wait for emergency people to arrive (They arrived moments later).

    Hey, stressed out people who are shocked into a selection between several courses of action sometimes make mistakes. Panicking and shooting at intruders during a no-knock raid, anyone?

    The burden of responsibility needs to be on the persons responsible for initiating the events.

    As such, this lawsuit is crap because it doesn’t focus on the driver of the car. It SHOULD BE and WAS jury nullified. Torti’s liability should, at best, be proportional to her involvement. She didn’t cause the accident, nor was she financially responsible for the plaintiff, nor did she actually cause the injuries. She may have inadvertently exacerbated them under stress, but she didn’t cause them.

    The appeal is based on a technical aspect, one that makes baseless assumptions as to the competency of the defendant at the time.

    This is why we have juries. the jury spoke already.

    Did the defendant act reasonably? No. But she was under duress. It was perfectly legal for HER to be out drinking until 1:30 in the morning… but, I suspect, not the driver of the car. A series of events unfolded before her and she made mistakes in dealing with them. While I wouldn’t hold her up as a beacon of good judgment, nor would I find her guilty of any wrong doing.

  23. #23 |  Coises | 

    I’d say the devil is in the details here — given only what we know, it’s appropriate for the case to proceed to trial.

    One question no one has raised that seems important to me is this: Since Van Horn states that she was pulled from the car “like a rag doll,” she was apparently conscious; did she instruct Torti in any way — either “Get me out of here!” or “Don’t touch me, just call 911!”?

    What about others on the scene — was Torti alone in being able to assess the situation and respond? Did she go against the consensus of other equally competent persons present? Did she do what others agreed should be done, but were afraid to do themselves?

    All this, as well as medical evidence as to the likelihood that Torti’s actions adversely affected Van Horn’s condition, can’t be addressed without allowing the suit to proceed. Torti probably acted in good faith in a frightening situation, and I can’t help but be sorry she has to go through this as well; but it may yet be found that she did not act responsibly — in which case denying Van Horn her right to sue and have the evidence considered in full by a court would be literally “adding insult to injury.”

    As a matter of policy, I wouldn’t say that we now encourage Good Samaritans of any kind, so encouraging reckless ones as such is not a problem — but in an emergency situation, if no one with relevant training is present, the largely instinctive snap decision at hand is often between (what will later be seen as) reckless action and passivity. Just standing by and watching someone become a victim is probably more widespread in modern society than rash involvement. While I think the suit discussed must proceed, I would hope the standard of negligence Van Horn needs to demonstrate to win will be rather high.

  24. #24 |  angulimala | 

    This is the type of situation best left to a jury, I think. Lets see what a consensus of citizens thinks when presented with the factual scenario and given an opportunity to hash it out.

    Exactly. Assuming she did cause the injury… Was her fear of an explosion “reasonable”? Did the injured friend ask her not to pull her out only to be ignored? Did the injured friend beg her to pull her out?

    Obviously Good intentions only excuse negligence up to a point.

  25. #25 |  atlvol | 

    I don’t believe the defendant could have caused the spinal injuries just by pulling the woman from the car, even if she “treated her like a ragdoll.” The more likely scenario is that Van Horn already had a spinal injury from the crash. This was likely exacerbated by Torti pulling her from the car, but I don’t think you could really say whether she would have ended up paralyzed even if Torti wouldn’t have acted. If you have no emergency/EMT training, are you expected to know how to handle a situation where the person might have spinal damage? I don’t think so. All this will do is cause more people to choose not to help others. If you are likely to be sued for helping, why take the risk.

  26. #26 |  Doug S | 

    Cars don’t explode like in the movies. Therefore, there was no “risk of explosion.” Unless the car was carrying unstable chemicals.

    For myself, only if I see visible flames will I risk the other person’s health.

    As for the merits of this case . . . I can’t imagine suing a friend for their misplaced caring. But maybe people are different in CA.

  27. #27 |  OldGreyOne | 

    This would put a damper on my natural inclination to help. But something else occurred to me. Can someone be sued for not helping? Granted, if I just keep driving by, no one knows who I am or can describe me. Maybe a license plate number. But If I stop, take the time to go through the decision process, then drive off …

    Maybe a reach. A long one. The results of the trial will determine my actions. And I would expect no help from anyone else.

  28. #28 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Decide each case individually on the specifics of the case. Do not allow precedent or “stare decisis.”

    Problem solved.

  29. #29 |  Marty | 

    #19 | nobahdi |

    ‘Unless there are open flames AND gasoline spraying into the air the car will not explode.’

    are you serious? car fires are very rare, but gasoline doesn’t need ‘open flames’ to ignite- an electrical spark, mechanical sparks from friction, etc can ignite gasoline. Cars also have batteries which are explosive risks. There’s also the risk of explosive cargo- gas cans, propane tanks, etc.

  30. #30 |  Marty | 

    correction, car fires are fairly common, car explosions are very rare. oops!

  31. #31 |  Mike T | 

    We want to encourage good Samaritans, but do we want to encourage reckless good Samaritans.

    Reckless is a bad choice of words for this situation. It’s a natural instinct to want to pull your friend from a badly damaged car in a case like this because you have no idea what is going on and it instinctively doesn’t seem safe.

    Furthermore, you would be holding private citizens to a higher standard than government agents. Why would you even think about punishing naive, ignorant good samaritans, when the police cannot even be held accountable for situations like tasing people who are suffering from diabetic shock or epileptic seizures?

  32. #32 |  Salvo | 

    I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. Speaking as a lawyer, this is textbook first year torts, and has been the rule in this country for….well, at least since I think the 1870’s. There is no duty to help; but if you do help, and you do so in a way that exacerbates a bad situation, and you can trace the damage to something you did, then you are liable for that damage.

    I’m thinking of a case where a guy rescued a baby from the tracks of an oncoming train, and in doing so, broke several of it’s bones. He was found liable for the damage he caused(I think….I’d have to look up the case).

  33. #33 |  Andrew Williams | 

    #11: Assuming I don’t have a hands-free cell phone, how the devil am I supposed to render aid with one hand while holding the phone with the other so I can listen to the 911 operator’s instructions?

  34. #34 |  Packratt | 

    All I know is that, with this final straw, I’m pretty sure I’ll never help another person again.

    No more stopping to assist a stranded driver in the snow, no more helping someone who fell get back up, no more stopping at an accident to check on people, and definitely no more stopping any crimes I witness.

    Too damned dangerous to help people these days. Let the government keep it’s monopoly on rescue and police services, it’s not my damned job and I sure as shit won’t risk being arrested or sued for being a decent person again.

    I think I’ll start a new life as a hermit… but I sure someone would figure out some way to sue me or have me arrested for that as well.

  35. #35 |  Mike T | 

    I’m thinking of a case where a guy rescued a baby from the tracks of an oncoming train, and in doing so, broke several of it’s bones. He was found liable for the damage he caused(I think….I’d have to look up the case).

    The moral of that story is to stand by and take before, during and after pictures of the baby being crushed by the train and send them to the family with a note: I would have saved your child’s life, but I couldn’t take the chance that you were a family of sue-happy douchebags.

  36. #36 |  Rick Caldwell | 

    @John #11:

    Personally, I would be dialing 911 and just following the instructions of the operator. They would be the best to judge when someone must be moved…

    Oh, I’ve dialed 911 a few times and spoken to these people. I can assure you they are not the best to judge anything.

    One of the times I called, one of the parents at my daughters’ Karate class had a seizure. She was immediately attended to by an off duty EMT, and I called 911 for an ambulance. When I informed her that an EMT was administering CPR, she jumped down my throat that CPR should not be performed on someone having a seizure. Now, I used the wrong terminology to describe what the EMT was doing. However, since that terminology was preceded by the information that it was an EMT providing the care, any competent person should have been able to deduce that the EMT would clearly understand that better than either me or her, and get the ambulance on the way, rather than waste time telling me what to call the thing that was being done. In addition to this, she asked me three times for the address, and I told her all three times that I didn’t know it. However, It was in the gym of a public elementary school, and I gave the names of the two streets that intersected where the school was. Why do you need more than that, if you work for the same damn city that runs the school?!

    On another occasion, I called about a lawn mower that was in the middle of the far right lane on the interstate. It was causing people to swerve suddenly, because you couldn’t see it in front of the vehicle in front of you. In fact, while I was talking to the operator, I saw someone hit the mower and run off the road in my rear view mirror. Again, she asked for a friggin’ address. Are you kidding me? It’s the interstate, there are no addresses. I had already told her it was north of a certain exit, and south of a certain bridge. There’s no more than a half mile stretch between the two. There’s an obstruction in the road, and now an accident, and you’re asking a question that’s that obviously stupid?

    No, you give these operators waaaayyy too much credit.

    …and it really removes most of my liability.

    That may be true. But, to remove my liability, I hate to think of depending on people of the quality I’ve just described in a life-threatening situation.

  37. #37 |  Wavemancali | 

    I’d be screwed. I worked in Canada in the security field for a while and 90% of security companies require you to be first aid certified every year. I was certified for 10 years in a row.

    The first thing they teach you is to make sure the environment where you are applying aid is a safe one. No gas, no live wires, no danger of imminent explosions etc. So if the environment is unsafe in your judgment, you move the victim.

    I would have moved the victim in this case 100% of the time if I smelled fuel. I think the court acted wrongly in this case. Just the smell of fuel is enough of a prompt if you are a civilian trained in any first aid course. EMT may be held to a higher standard but te person in this case acted correctly and shouldn’t have been held liable.

  38. #38 |  Ron | 

    salvo,

    re: “There is no duty to help;”

    you are a,lwayer and you do not realize that many localities have laws that REQUIRE people to stop and render due aid?

  39. #39 |  Packratt | 

    @37

    …perhaps that’s a good reason to not even call 911 when you see someone who needs help, just pretend you didn’t see it. That way you can’t be sued for helping and you can’t be arrested for refusing to help.

    Trust me, I know all too well now, there’s no incentive to being a Good Samaritan… and I literally had to have that beaten into me.

  40. #40 |  andyinsdca | 

    “Letting a jury” sort this out will still cause an active deterrent to people acting as Good Samaritans. First, there will be the huge legal bills in defending one’s self, no matter the result. And, are YOU willing to take your chances with the juries in this country? After all, they found OJ innocent (of his murder charges)

  41. #41 |  Ben | 

    Van Horn testified that Torti pulled her out of the wreckage “like a rag doll.” Van Horn blamed her friend for her paralysis.

    Here’s what I think. Torti is Vah Horn’s friend. Can you imagine how horrible it would be to live with the thought that you caused your friend to be paralyzed? I can not. That would be punishment enough.

    Van Horn is suing because she can’t make money off her own stupidity. It’s the american dreem.

  42. #42 |  Sertorius | 

    There seems to be some confusion about the legal result here.

    There was no involvement by a jury. Van Horn’s (the victim’s) case was dismissed on summary judgment, which means the judge threw it out before a trial. The reason the judge threw it out is California’s Good Samaritan law, which immunizes any “person who . . . renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency . . . ” from liability for civil damages.

    The California Supreme Court overturned the trial judge’s decision, on the basis that the untrained Good Samaritan’s attempt to help did not qualify as “emergency care.” The Supreme Court decided the statute’s phrase “emergency care” should be interpreted to mean “emergency medical care.” It’s reason for doing so are pretty weak, and that for that reason I think it’s a bad decision. The plain language of the statute should have controlled, imho, and the trial judge was right.

    The actual opinion of the Cal. Supreme Court can be found here:

    http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S152360.PDF

  43. #43 |  Rich | 

    I’m an ex-paramedic. (Six years was enough for me Marty – crossing 20 means you must really love your job). I’ve seen lots of situations where bystanders made things much worse.

    I once ran on a seizure call in a grocery store. We walked in and found an unconscious patient laying in a puddle of orange juice and surrounded by broken plastic spoons. The bystanders first tried to pry her mouth open with spoons to keep her from “swallowing her tongue”. Try swallowing your own tongue sometime. They then poured orange juice into her airway. She spent a few days in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia from the orange juice. C-spine injuries are trickier, but my point s that samaritans can do really stupid things.

    Also, in 6 years on an ambulance I worked hundreds of car accidents. I saw one explosion. It’s pretty rare.

  44. #44 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I blame television. Cars always explode on TV.

  45. #45 |  Mike | 

    People should help if they can and get out of the way if the can’t. It will be lawsuits like this – and many more to come – that will set out in common law how a person knows if they can actually help or not.

    As for not knowing, I call BS. I have been taking First Aid and CPR since I was in Cub Scouts in the 70s and the one thing that has been constant and drilled into your head is never move a person who even has a possibility of a neck, spinal or head injury. One only has to watch a few football or hockey games to see how even minor injuries are this sort are handled by professionals.

    And I don’t know about the US, but up in Canada, not moving a person who may have a head or neck injury is common knowledge.

    As a legal and societal rule, I think this case and other should inevitably lead to the following reasoning if one happens on an accident:

    1. Stay Calm,

    2. Can I help?

    3. How can I help?

    4. If I cannot, what can I do?

    Qualified people being too scared to help is bad, but unqualified, panicked people rushing in to “help” causing more problems is worse.

  46. #46 |  Marty | 

    #35 | Rick Caldwell

    Great post!

    It’s funny- normally the theme on this site is ‘Government’s incompetent, corrupt, intrusive, etc’ But, on this thread, I’ve seen several posts saying ‘wait for the authorities’ ‘I’m not helping’ etc.

    There are some great dispatchers, paramedics, and firefighters out there. But, just like all the stories about incompetent cops, I promise there are plenty of folks who absolutely shouldn’t be working in this field.

    In my experience, over 90% of the ambulance calls don’t require any medical training. Of course, like most govt agencies, many of the emergency providers are putting lots of effort into convincing (scaring) everyone into thinking they can’t get by without them…

  47. #47 |  blocky McBlocked | 

    Nobody has questioned the cause of the crash, which resulted in everything that followed.
    Was Van Horn responsible for the crash? As a driver, is she not required to keep her vehicle under control?

  48. #48 |  Salvo | 

    #37: Ummm…no. There is no duty to help. One of the most basic rules in torts. If Michael Phelps were to see a baby drowning in 6 inches of water, legally speaking, he could stand there and laugh and incur no liability. That’s one of those things you hear in your torts class and say “wait, what? Seriously?” and then much discussion ensues on why this is the case. Now, there might be some sort of criminal penalty incurred depending on your jurisdiction (but these are, again, generally speaking, almost impossible to enforce), but generally speaking, 700+ years of common law has laid down the principal that you have no duty to help somebody in need.

    There are of course, “expert” exceptions, (for instance, a lifeguard, in the above situation, would have a duty, or an EMT or a police officer, on or off duty), but no. At common law, this has been the rule for a very, very long time.

    There are very good reasons for this rule. What if in order to help somebody, you had to put yourself in danger? What if you made the situation worse? What if you killed somebody in your eagerness to help? In the train/baby case, the courts held that the train was stopping anyways; I recall that several eyewitnesses had said that it wouldn’t have hit the baby. When they man saved the baby, I think he did so by picking it up and then throwing it to safety, where it sustained the injuries. Just saying.

    Now, some jurisdictions have made good Samaritan exceptions for liability, but a)I believe these are in the very small minority, and b)these laws don’t excuse negligence, i.e. they have their limits. If your action was negligent, don’t expect a Samaritan law to cover you.

    Oh, and downrating for relating what I learned in 1st year torts regarding this type of thing? Really? Grow a skin people.

  49. #49 |  David Chesler | 

    Doug: “As for the merits of this case . . . I can’t imagine suing a friend for their misplaced caring. But maybe people are different in CA.”

    Keep in mind this was undoubtedly one insurance company suing another insurance company.

    If you’ve got insurance that will pay you for your own medical care and such it undoubtedly gives them a right to subrogate to recover. I don’t think most of them have a clause that says “But if the tortfeasor is a friend of yours, we and not your friend’s umbrella policy to her homeowner’s insurance, have to pay all the bills.” And if you’re facing a loss of livelihood and medical expenses, you’re not going to forego those payments just so you won’t offend your friend when your insurance company and hers use the courts to determine which company’s money is going to fund them.

    I don’t blame the plaintiff’s lawyers here, I blame the defendant companies that force things to litigation when the liability is clear but playing hardball might scare away a claimant. It’s also for things like this that create those calls that Marty the paramedic complained about. If you’re trying to collect for a few hundred dollars of collision damage and your lost wages, and your lawyer tells you “It’s too bad you didn’t go to an emergency room right away, and it’s too bad your chiropracty bills didn’t exceed $2,000 because then I’d be able to help you (for a 1/3 cut); now you’re out of luck” you’ll be behaving differently if there’s another accident.

  50. #50 |  David | 

    One thing that I hope the jury in this case considers (something I don’t think gets enough consideration these day) is the “heat of the moment” reaction aspect to decisions like these. Is it realistic to expect someone in that situation to accurately assess the damage to the car, and the injuries to their friend? Especially when a few seconds could mean the difference between life and death? I guarantee that physically being in that situation is far different than reading a book of scenarios and making the right choice.

    That said, even with the risk of liability, I’d try to help someone if I could. I still have to live with myself after all.

  51. #51 |  bobzbob | 

    The original injury to the SPINE was caused by the accident, but as in most cases like this the damage to the SPINAL CORD was probably caused by the twisting and bending of the body as the edges of the damaged spine are moved against the fragile spinal cord. It is highly likely that the damage was caused by the movement, and this was probably demonstrated by medical examination after the fact.

    Cars rarely burst into flames after and accident, except for movies, good intentions based on ignorance are not good intentions. If “good intentions” were a legal defense then virtually any behaviour would be excusable. I’m sure Madoff didn’t intend to defraud anyone, its just that the economy fell apart exposing his ponzi scheme. The administration had “good intentions” when they unlawfully detained and tortured “terror suspects” does this make the behaviour OK? Police departments have “good intentions” when they bust down the wrong door, does this make it right? A good intentions defense is a recipe for disaster.

    Why would any libertarian want to interfere in the process by which a free society assigns responsibility for actions, the courts?

  52. #52 |  Spleen | 

    I blame television. Cars always explode on TV.

    Even horses explode on TV.

  53. #53 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I think the question here is not whether it will open a flood of lawsuits but rather what kind of effect it will have on Good Samaritans and other first responders. Personally, I’m thinking that for every one case like this where somebody gets hurt, there are one hundred where the Good Samaritan saves the day. I’d look into the statistics and if the numbers back me up, I think you keep the Good Samaritan law. The bottom line is revoking Good Samaritan laws will lead to a decrease of people helping those in need, so it’s a simple risk-benefit analysis to determine whether the laws should remain in place. The number of lawsuits filed doesn’t even factor into the equation for me. (Full disclosure: I am a civil defense lawyer, though not an insurance defense lawyer.)

  54. #54 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Oh, and in response to David @ #49:

    I don’t blame the plaintiff’s lawyers here, I blame the defendant companies that force things to litigation when the liability is clear but playing hardball might scare away a claimant.

    Both sides play hardball. Trust me.

  55. #55 |  bobzbob | 

    “Is it realistic to expect someone in that situation to accurately assess the damage to the car, and the injuries to their friend? ”

    Not moving a person with a suspect spinal injury (anyone who has been in a violent accident) is among the first thing you will learn in any first aid course – which are readily available to the public at low cost from several organizations at low cost. It would be unreasonable for the friend to know how to perform spinal surgery, but NOT unreasonable for her to be appraised of the basics of first responder care. This is the kind of thing that we should expect all citizens to know and not excuse them for ignorance of these basics.

  56. #56 |  Ron | 

    @salvo:

    re: “Ummm…no. There is no duty to help. One of the most basic rules in torts. If Michael Phelps were to see a baby drowning in 6 inches of water, legally speaking, he could stand there and laugh and incur no liability. That’s one of those things you hear in your torts class and say “wait, what? Seriously?” and then much discussion ensues on why this is the case. Now, there might be some sort of criminal penalty incurred depending on your jurisdiction ”

    translation: “Ummm No, but also ummm yes”. Very lawyerly of you, and thus adds nothing to the discussion.

  57. #57 |  Sean | 

    In our society, no matter the situation, it is better to let someone die than to try to help them. This case is the exact reason for that statement.

  58. #58 |  Bob | 

    “Nobody has questioned the cause of the crash, which resulted in everything that followed.
    Was Van Horn responsible for the crash? As a driver, is she not required to keep her vehicle under control?”

    Van Horn was not driving.

    Two cars:

    First car is driven by Anthony Watson, with Alexandra Van Horn in the passenger seat and Jonelle Freed riding in the back seat.

    Second car is driven by Dion Ofoegbu with Lisa Torti in the passenger seat.

    For reasons not explained, Watson steered his car into a light pole at 45 mph.

    The fact that it was 1:30 am on halloween night and all 5 were out partying could have been a factor, though.

    My theory, which is based not on facts in the case in any way, but the fact that I don’t like sue happy people and I don’t think Watson’s car drove itself off the road… is that Van Horn was giving him a blow job, thus positioning herself to receive the maximum spinal injury in an accident where everyone else walked away.

    Personally? After reading all the details I can about the case, I don’t see where Torti is guilty of anything. It was perfectly reasonable for her to try to get Van Horn out of the car, that was what everyone else was doing, and under duress it probably seemed like the best course of action…. it was just her bad luck that Van Horn not only had a spinal column injury, but was a sue happy bitch.

    Tragically. The lesson here is if you come across an accident. Let them die before attempting to render aid.

  59. #59 |  Frank N | 

    Note to self: Cover portion of license plate with mud and install “Keep on truckin'” bumper sticker on dashboard.

  60. #60 |  Ron | 

    OK, cars don’t usually *explode* but when gas is leaking all over the place there is a real risk of *fire*. I have seen my share of vehicle fires, and many times they get bad fast. All it takes is one sliced fuel line, a spark, and then all the plastics in the engine compartment and in the passenger compartment can get going pretty good. It is likely that by “explosion” the Samaritan in this case was concerned about any kind of conflagration, not just an explosion like the ones you see in movies. The idea being, if that car lights up more than likely the disabled occupant is toast. That is a real risk that must be assessed in a situation like this. Wait until you see actual flames and it could well be too late.

  61. #61 |  Bob | 

    “For the sake of argument, let’s assume Torti’s actions caused Van Horn’s paralysis, and that the car wasn’t actually on fire (meaning there was no imminent threat to Van Horn’s life). Should Torti’s obviously good intent allow her to duck liability? We want to encourage good Samaritans, but do we want to encourage reckless good Samaritans.”

    Heh… one last shot at this. using Radley’s ‘Instructions to the jury’ as a sounding board.

    “Should Torti’s obviously good intent allow her to duck liability?”

    No. They should not. What should allow here to duck liability is the fact that she was under duress and did not act in malice or with gross negligence.

    “Duress” is shown by the stress of coming up to an accident scene that just occurred. Very few of us have the ‘Right Stuff’ to be calm and collected in a situation like that.

    “Acting in malice” should be self explanatory. There is no reason to believe she intended to injure.

    “Gross Negligence” would be something like pulling her from the car, but then dropping her down an embankment to the rocks below.

    The question of “Why did she even TRY to get her out of the car? Doesn’t she know about spinal injuries and not moving accident victims?”

    When she got there, under duress, the driving thrust of all the people there was to ‘get them out of the car’. Watson got out on his own, Ofoegbu was helping Freed. She probably just latched onto “Get them out of the car!” as a course of action without executing much thought. If they were all jumping off a cliff, she probably would have done that too.

  62. #62 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    @47: “Alexandra Van Horn was in the front passenger seat of a car that slammed into a light pole at 45 mph on Nov. 1, 2004.”

    And for those who say it’s the insurance companies, it’s not. This is one ungrateful c*** suing a friend for trying to help her after an accident. “Beverly Hills lawyer Robert Hutchinson, who represented Van Horn, said he’s pleased with the ruling.” He’s a Beverly Hills ambulance chaser, not an insurance company lawyer.

    I think basing a legal precedent on this case is ridiculous. First of all, people in California are friggin’ morons, with the notable exception of Cynical in Ca, and I agree that cases like this should be decided individually. Any “precedent” set by this will inevitably give the government more power by allowing them to say “don’t help each other, just stand back and let us take care of it institutionally.” Or possibly “If you’re going to help someone who’s been in an accident, you have to get a permit first.” Either way, they will take more of our money to fund the administration of this new statute and more of our rights to allow their agents to maintain control of situations.

  63. #63 |  Scott | 

    “Not moving a person with a suspect spinal injury (anyone who has been in a violent accident) is among the first thing you will learn in any first aid course – which are readily available to the public at low cost from several organizations at low cost.”

    Great. So one more aspect of my personal life in which I have to incur an expense just to be in compliance with the law. I’ll add that to the list of other “compliance expenses”, which includes tax preparation fees, vehicle emissions testing, etc.

  64. #64 |  Steve Verdon | 

    This is the type of situation best left to a jury, I think. Lets see what a consensus of citizens thinks when presented with the factual scenario and given an opportunity to hash it out.

    Maybe, but once lawyers it is almost always a bad thing…so from now on, I wont stop.

    First of all, people in California are friggin’ morons, the notable exception of Cynical in Ca

    Hey!

  65. #65 |  SusanK | 

    This has to be insurance companies suing each other. Anyone who doesn’t understand that can re-read David Chesler’s comment (#49). The Plaintiff’s attorney may not be an insurance company, and Torti could have been added in as a defendant by the driver’s insurance company. Knowing nothing about the facts (or the insurance in the case), my guess is this:
    Plaintiff sued driver who wrecked car, saying “you crashed the car and it paralyzed me.”
    Driver’s insurance adds Torti in as a defendant, saying “Crash didn’t paralyze plaintiff, it was Torti’s actions that did”.
    Whether Torti has insurance or deep pockets is unknown. She may have been added in simply to muddle the cause of the injury to the jury.
    Given the facts that we have, I think Torti should be liable. She undertook a course of action she was not qualified/trained to take and mishandled it. I base my decision on the plaintiff characterizing the pulling “like a rag doll” – makes it sound like she did it to further injury, not in a caring manner.

  66. #66 |  nobahdi | 

    #29 | Marty |
    are you serious? car [explosions] are very rare, but gasoline doesn’t need ‘open flames’ to ignite- an electrical spark, mechanical sparks from friction, etc can ignite gasoline. Cars also have batteries which are explosive risks. There’s also the risk of explosive cargo- gas cans, propane tanks, etc.

    Gasoline also needs to be vaporized in order to catch fire, which basically means it needs to be exposed to air. So unless the gas tank is leaking (spraying), the gas won’t ignite. The other “explosive risks” you mention would need to be on fire (open flames) to explode.

  67. #67 |  chance | 

    In every first aid class I’ve ever taken it has been drilled into us that we have NO duty to provide assistance, and that while state laws may differ (I think some give a very limited immunity) a samaritan may be held liable for negligence. In 99 cases out of a hundred, you’re almost certainly better off waiting until the EMTs arrive.

  68. #68 |  Leonson | 

    I’d think that the jackass driving the car would be a better target for the lawsuit than the friend that pulled her out.

    But maybe he/she is dead/poor/uninsured.

  69. #69 |  Michael | 

    My father was an EMT and fireman and I have heard lots of stories where he was in the car with gasoline all over the place. He has never been in a fire in such a situation. (He was, in fact, criticized by bystanders for not getting a gasoline soaked victim out of one vehicle, immediately! His answer was, “Where did they think I was? I was concerned about fire too! But, there was none”) But, he also knows that gasoline, usually takes a spark or flame to ignite and even a cigarette is not hot enough, except when you are taking a drag, to usually light the gasoline.

    But, I would never expect a young girl, with, who knows what, training to have that knowledge to work with. She should not be held accountable for her IGNORANCE. Don’t make too many assumptions about a bystander’s knowledge. I am not impressed with the medical knowledge of the average person!

    And, bobzbob, to try to make a point that the spinal cord was not likely injured from that crash, but by the removal of the victim, seems to be very unlikely, as well. If the girl was paralyzed and unable to get out, the damage was, more likely than not, already caused by the accident. A force, strong enough to disrupt the bones and ligaments in the back, would also be strong enough to transect the spinal cord. (it is very soft) It would be impossible for even a trauma doctor or neurosurgeon to tell the difference, after the fact!

    And, even being the field, I have never heard of too many people that walk after broken backs with spinal cord damage. It happens, but is not real common. Compression fractures are a completely different story, and usually result in no spinal cord damage.

  70. #70 |  Saladman | 

    I think on balance good samaritan laws are important enough they should be upheld, rather than weakened for everybody because of a singular event. This may be an instance of a bad case making bad law.

    A more useful and direct response to the problem (if less renumerative) would be to organize a public information campaign about not moving accident victims. This is something a lot of people don’t know, and its unfortunately a natural impulse for people without first aid training. But it is often the wrong thing to do.

  71. #71 |  Jet | 

    Of course the move is being characterized as “like a ragdoll” by the plaintiff, whomever the original plaintiff is. They can’t very well sue Torti for liability if they say that Torti took all possible care, can they?

    I think something that hasn’t been pointed out, except tangentially, is that everyone else walked away from this accident. Why should Torti have had any suspicion that Van Horn had suffered a spinal injury? Unless there was something visibly and clearly wrong, moving Van Horn from the immediate scene seems pretty reasonable to me, especially if Torti had concerns about fire.

    So, to answer the original question, I think each case needs to be looked at on its merits. Which, apparently, a lower court judge already did. I’m not at all as familiar with the legal system as I should be. Why is it that in a criminal case, a verdict of not guilty is the end of it, but in civil cases it seems a plaintiff can continually re-word their complaint until they manage to get something that sticks?

  72. #72 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #44 | Dave Krueger | December 22nd, 2008 at 1:11 pm
    “I blame television. Cars always explode on TV.”

    For a wonderfully entertaining website, please visit http://www.intuitor.com and read the “insultingly stupid movie physics” as well as the movie reviews. I apologize in advance for wasting an entire day of your life, but it will be well spent.

  73. #73 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #62 | Brandon Bowers | December 22nd, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    “I think basing a legal precedent on this case is ridiculous. First of all, people in California are friggin’ morons, with the notable exception of Cynical in Ca, and I agree that cases like this should be decided individually.”

    I am flattered. Brandon, you demonstrate a cogent awareness of Californians in general. It is raining today — nothing demonstrates you point more aptly than watching [Southern] Californians drive in the rain.

    FWIW, I believe that “stare decisis” is among the worst attributes of the legal system, with pleabargaining nipping at its heels. Every single case on its own merits heard by a jury or nothing. Preferably nothing.

  74. #74 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Steve, in fairness to Brandon, I don’t think he knows you hail from Chino, am I right? So that makes two of us exceptions to the CA moron rule.

  75. #75 |  Vlad | 

    I’m not sure how many people here have ever actually been in a life-and-death situation, where they have to decide whether to step in as a Samaritan or not. I’ve done it twice: Once as a kid where I jumped into a pool to grab a toddler who couldn’t swim, and once a couple of years ago when I gave the Heimlich to a lady at work who was choking on a bagel. When you’re in a situation like that, there isn’t any conscious rational thought as to whether you should do this thing or that thing or the other thing. You’re in an absolute blind panic, operating on a combination of training (if you have any) and instinct. I was lucky enough to know what to do in both cases without really having to think about it, but I’d have a hard time blaming a Samaritan for anything but the most egregious stupidity in an emergency situation.

  76. #76 |  angulimala | 

    1. I’m no EMT and I’ve been taught that, if you are not an EMT, you DO NOT move a person in an accident unless there is IMMINENT and PRESSING danger justifying it.

    If they can’t move under their own power, it is usually because they have injuries that can only be made worse by yanking on their bodies.

    I learned this crap in Middle School Health class – not some special course. Maybe it isn’t common knowledge, but I think it is and it definitely should be.

    2. Considering how easily cars blow up on TV – a single pistol shot often being enough to blow one up – it doesn’t surprise me that ignorant people would rush to assume that a car is going to blow based on what looks like bad damage.

  77. #77 |  Marty | 

    well said, Vlad!

    these are ‘true emergencies’- people have to make immediate decisions, to the best of their abilities. you obviously made the right decisions- congratulations!

  78. #78 |  Jason | 

    This is a really tough one. It’s hard to imagine that the friend would have gone through the trouble to pull the victim out of the care with anything other than noble intentions. You’d really have to know the details of the case to decide.
    http://rightklik.blogspot.com/

  79. #79 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    Sorry Steve, I’ve seen some of your posts, so I naturally assumed you weren’t from California.

  80. #80 |  edintally | 

    Radley, you are freaking me out! My 1L friend and I just had this conversation about this very topic today: Duty to Rescue

    Salvo,

    I agree with what you are saying BUT (there is always a but), eight states (I think: can’t find citations) do have laws about a Duty to Rescue. My google-fu has been weak on this topic. Apparently, Florida has something on the books but I’m still trying to get the specifics.

    Opinion: While I generally agree that someone does not have a duty of care, I don’t think it is unreasonable to consider the possibility that in some rare (very if you like) cases, a person should be held liable for not rendering ANY aid.

    This case: The facts of the case should be assessed in the courtroom. However well intentioned this girl was, she may very well have been negligent. Or not. In any case, I doubt it would have much impact on how people respond to others in an emergency.

  81. #81 |  Nick T | 

    For those clowns posting here about how cars can’t explode…. Well, then how do you explain this!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AScxr4nJvMc

    ;)

  82. #82 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “If, however, a person elects to come to someone’s aid, he or she has a duty to exercise due care,” he wrote.

    I’m not so sure about that. If Torti is not a licensed EMT/paramedic, nurse, physician, or a first responder such as a police officer or firefighter, how can the court expect her to understand proper protocol for removing a MVA victim from a car when she felt (rightly or wrongly) that exigent circumstances existed. Did the court expect a regular citizen in extraordinary circumstances to know precisely how to immobilize the c-spine during an emergency move? Vlad (#75) is absolutely right about how people react in these situations. No, Torti probably should not have moved the victim, but I think her actions clearly in good faith.

    This is unfortunate, and it could give people pause when they see someone that needs a hand. It may also embolden those that think we have to rely solely on government agencies or “experts” during emergency situations. Voluntary action is important. You and your neighbors are the first line of defense. Police, Firefighters, EMT’s and others in protective services are the second line of defense. Poor decision, in my opinion.

  83. #83 |  andyinsdca | 

    Something has occurred to me reading these. The thoughts aren’t totally coalesced, but here goes:

    The government doesn’t want us helping ourselves. AT ALL. They don’t want us protecting ourselves and they don’t want us helping our neighbors in emergency situations. That’s what THEY are for. To protect us from all of the harm that can come. YOU are too stupid to do it on your own.

  84. #84 |  Michael | 

    Nick T,

    I did not see anyone saying that cars do not explode (or catch fire). What was said is that they do much less frequently than one would believe by watching movie or TV accidents. This fear would cause a person, who did not know better, to think that a fire was imminent and pull an injured person away from the wreckage, which is rarely needed.

    The movie example, you linked to, of such an explosion is great evidence of this. Of all the front end accidents that occur, there are not very many car fires involved. And the gas tank on the van was actually located further up the side, nearer to the front. With the low velocity and force of the accident, both vehicles would have likely been drivable, afterward, realistically, with no fire involved. But not in the movies!

    Oh, not only was my dad an EMT, we also drove wreckers for many years and we witnessed only one accident that resulted in a fire. That was when, at highway speed of 65mph, a Ford Torino lost control and spun backwards running into another car (backwards head on) in the other lane, rupturing the Ford’s gas tank. Five people were burned to death in that accident, that day. Witnesses could not get them out of the burning cars. Two adults and three kids. I was about 16 at the time. We got there after the fire was out.

  85. #85 |  Brent | 

    Everything seems to hinge on whether the samaritan can prove whether there was good reason to believe the car would catch fire. How does the parapalegic prove that her injuries were caused by being pulled from the wreckage and not from the crash itself? It’s impossible to decide accurately unless these two things are factored in. Until then, you have to leave doubt for whether the rescuer acted overzealously to earn the exalted ‘hero’ title or the rescuee is just out for a payday.

  86. #86 |  Kevin | 

    I think this is a truly stupid decision that will undoubtedly cost people’s lives. Oh, and every few years California keeps trying to create a duty to rescue.

    The US is crazy about spinal immobilization due to asshole lawyers. In the rest of the world they don’t go crazy about strapping people to backboards. And as a result they have LESS spinal injuries, because it’s not benign to strap someone to a backboard. It typically results in injuries, as the average time that are on the backboard is 90 minutes, and it is sometimes many hours. Try lying immobile on your back on a concrete floor for an hour and a half some time. Plus it greatly increases the chance of aspiration as you’ve made them unable to protect their airway.

    If you doubt this look up “Out-of-hospital Spinal Immobilization: Its Effect on Neurologic Injury. 1998″ in a good library.

  87. #87 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #85 Kevin:
    Interesting point about spinal immobilization. I work in a healthcare setting, and I have also had to lay on a backboard after a minor car accident (I was rear-ended). I know for a fact that it really sucks to lay on those things for extended periods. Patients complain of discomfort regularly. The drunks really hate the neck braces too.

  88. #88 |  mattincincy | 

    Between this story and the final episode of Seinfeld I don’t know what to do. I think I’ll stay home.

    We need to stop suing each other. Period.

  89. #89 |  Justin | 

    I got bored reading comments around #30 or so, so if this has been addressed, I apologize. The thing a lot of people commenting don’t seem to take into consideration is that the two people were friends. It easy to say, “Well, I’ll never stop and help a stranger again.” Is it that easy to say that you would never help your best friend in an emergency again? Odds are that you wouldn’t expect a friend to try to sue you for saving them. It wouldn’t even be something that you wouldn’t consider at the time. Your initial reaction would most likely be “I need to save my friend!” That being said, I believe that Torti behaved in a reasonable fashion: as a human being.

  90. #90 |  Michael | 

    Talking about immobilization devices,

    If someone started vomiting on a backboard, they would have to be turned on their side. That would have been hard to do with one guy in the back of an ambulance! And the people really did complain until they got off of those things.

    I often took immobilization devices off, after doing an exam on the neck and back to see if there were signs of tenderness, thus trauma. Too many were put on as knee-jerk responses by the ambulance staff at the scene. (But, in all honesty, they did the right thing, because of their limited training) On all of the patients that I removed the cervical collar, after a meticulous exam, no fractures were ever found on the x-rays.

    I still lost my job as an ER moonlighter, in that particular hospital, because some other goon (ER doc) did not check the patient, then sent the patient to X-ray, and the collar was removed in the x-ray department on a patient with a broken neck! The head nurse thought I was the crazy one! I hope if I get into an ER situation like this, my doctor has a lot better judgment,and does his job better, than the goon!

    I have too much time on my hands. I am commenting way too much! I will stop!

  91. #91 |  Barak A. Pearlmutter | 

    The publications below are very interesting, and may indicate that the current common “immobilize everyone on a back board at all costs until after x-ray no matter how much they want to wiggle” policy may be motivated to some extent by fear of lawyers rather than by rational calculation of tradeoffs. Would be very interesting to study how the current policies came to be.

    NOTE TO THE STUPID:

    The take home lesson from the below is *not* that you
    should flop people with spinal injuries around like rag
    dolls. DO NOT DO THAT! Regardless of the below, be
    careful not to hurt people with spinal injuries.

    NOTE TO THE STUPID: REREAD PREVIOUS PARAGRAPH!

    —————————————————————-

    Hauswald M, Ong G, Tandberg D, Omar Z. “Out-of-hospital spinal immobilization: its effect on neurologic injury”, Acad Emerg Med 5(3):214-9, Mar 1998. PMID: 9523928

    Abstract:

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of emergency immobilization on neurologic outcome of patients who have blunt traumatic spinal injuries. METHODS: A 5-year retrospective chart review was carried out at 2 university hospitals. All patients with acute blunt traumatic spinal or spinal cord injuries transported directly from the injury site to the hospital were entered. None of the 120 patients seen at the University of Malaya had spinal immobilization during transport, whereas all 334 patients seen at the University of New Mexico did. The 2 hospitals were comparable in physician training and clinical resources. Neurologic injuries were assigned to 2 categories, disabling or not disabling, by 2 physicians acting independently and blinded to the hospital of origin. Data were analyzed using multivariate logistic regression, with hospital location, patient age, gender, anatomic level of injury, and injury mechanism serving as explanatory variables. RESULTS: There was less neurologic disability in the unimmobilized Malaysian patients (OR 2.03; 95% CI 1.03-3.99; p = 0.04). This corresponds to a <2% chance that immobilization has any beneficial effect. Results were similar when the analysis was limited to patients with cervical injuries (OR 1.52; 95% CI 0.64-3.62; p = 0.34). CONCLUSION: Out-of-hospital immobilization has little or no effect on neurologic outcome in patients with blunt spinal injuries.

    —————————————————————-

    Mark Hauswald and Darren Braude. “Spinal immobilization in trauma patients: is it really necessary?” Current Opinion in Critical Care 8(6):566-70, Dec 2002. PMID: 12454543

    Abstract:

    The acute management of potential spinal injuries in trauma patients is undergoing radical reassessment. Until recently, it was mandatory that nearly all trauma patients be immobilized with a back board, hard cervical collar, head restraints, and body strapping until the spine could be cleared radiologically. This practice is still recommended by many references. It is now clear that this policy subjects most patients to expensive, painful, and potentially harmful treatment for little, if any, benefit. Low-risk patients can be safely cleared clinically, even by individuals who are not physicians. Patients at high risk for spinal instability should be removed from the hard surface to avoid tissue ischemia. Understanding the rationale for these changes requires knowledge of mechanisms of injury, physiology, and biomechanics as they apply to spinal injuries.

  92. #92 |  Brian | 

    Judging by the comments, not enough people have actually read the decision. As far as I can tell, the majority decision is whether a particular law on the books in CA protects people who provide “emergency care” really means “emergency medical care”. I’ve read the decision (which you really should do before you comment) and I disagree with the prior post that said the reasoning of the majority was weak. The court fairly meticulously lays out the logic for its decision, from the name of the act and division wherein this law is located to the legislative history of the act to the description in other sections of the same act that describe in more detail what things like “emergency” constitute. It comes down to whether you think the plain language of the statute (which would support Torti’s case) should trump what appears to be the intent of the statute. Based on the description of what happened given in the background, this seems like something that, in my opinion, should go to trial.

  93. #93 |  Daniel Quackenbush | 

    The case still goes to the jury. The jury might still find for the defendant.

    I doubt few juries would actually hold the rescuer liable for acting reasonably.

    The example that a person can’t be removed from a burning vehicle because of this ruling is absurd. When there is a fire, it would not be negligence to remove the injured person before stabilizing the spine. The injury to the plaintiff was not strict liability; negligence is still required.

    Disclosure: I once met the plaintiff (she was in a wheelchair) at the law library and spoke to her awhile about her case.

  94. #94 |  Andrew Williams | 

    If Van Horn didn’t want to be helped, she should have crashed her car in an area where there were lots of witnesses. The more people witness an accident, the less likely the victim will receive aid–first or worst.

Leave a Reply