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The California Supreme Court recently decided that a woman who pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle was not immune from civil liability because the care she rendered was not medically-related. The divided high court signalled that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. It may be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervenes in an accident in good faith in California can be sued.
The decision in Van Horn v. Watson, 08 S.O.S. 6769 was terrible,and it potentially has a chilling effect on Good Samaritans in California and elsewhere. The original purpose of Good Samaritan laws was to reduce the hesitancy of professionals and laymen to help in emergency situations based on a fear of legal repercussions. Indeed, some states include a duty to assist clause in their Good Samaritan laws. This decision directly contradicts the duty to assist clause and, to some extent, effectively redefines a Good Samaritan to include only trained emergency responders or medical professionals. In the event of a major disaster, the negative impact of this decision will be realized.