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Carter v. Reese – Good Samaritan Act Can Limit Liability

“Good Samaritan” laws are written with the goal of extending legal protections to those who try in an emergency to help others who are injured, ill, incapacitated or in danger. The purpose is to encourage bystanders to get involved and try to help those who might need it, without the fear of being sued for injury they caused by not being experienced or causing more harm than good. For example, someone may jumps in to perform CPR, but they don’t know how exactly to perform it correctly and the person dies. Whether that individual could be held liable for wrongful death would depend largely on state statute.trucking

In Florida, F.S. 768.13 is the Good Samaritan Act, which spells out immunity from civil liability under certain circumstances. The law says that any person – including those who practice medicine for a living – who gratuitously (not for charge) and in good faith render emergency treatment or care to someone either directly in response to an emergency or in a situation that arises out of a public health emergency without the objection of the victim or victims won’t be held liable. This statute generally applies when individuals are at the site of an emergency, outside of a hospital, doctor’s office or some other location that has the necessary medical equipment.

There are some very specific circumstances that have to be in place for a medical professional not to be liable for negligent care they render, but this could be used as one possible defense.

In the recent personal injury lawsuit of Carter v. Reese, the Ohio Supreme Court was tasked with determining a person could be liable for injury caused while attempting to help someone.

According to court records, plaintiff was a truck driver for a company called S&S. He pulled his tractor-trailer into a loading dock owned by another firm. The purpose was to deliver one empty trailer and pick up another. After he affixed the second trailer to the truck, he pulled the truck about six inches away from the loading dock and locked the brake of the trailer so the wheels couldn’t move. As he pulled himself onto the dock to close the door of the trailer, he slipped. His leg got stuck between the loading dock and the trailer. At that point, he didn’t feel any physical pain, but he couldn’t get himself free. He started to yell for help and bang on the loading dock door, trying to get someone to come and help him.

Approximately 10 minutes later, defendant heard plaintiff and drove to the lot. Plaintiff told him to get into plaintiff’s truck and move it about a foot forward but, “Whatever you do, don’t put it in reverse.”

Defendant’s response: “No problem.”

But it was a problem because as soon as defendant got behind the wheel and put it in neutral, he realized he didn’t know how to operate the rig. The truck revved three times. The air brake released. The tractor rolled backwards and broke plaintiff’s leg. So severe were his injuries, his right leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Plaintiff and his wife sued for personal injury alleging negligence. However, they did not assert defendant had engaged in willful or wanton misconduct – which would have been the only way to overcome the Good Samaritan statute that defendant countered with.

Trial court granted summary judgment to defendant and the court of appeals affirmed, explaining that in this type of emergency situation where a man’s leg was pinned between the truck and the loading dock, defendant’s actions in trying to move the truck did constitute as emergency care because he was trying to resolve the emergency created by plaintiff. Further, defendant’s misconduct was not wanton or willful.

Ohio Supreme Court affirmed. Plaintiff had argued the state statute was applicable only to those who render emergency medical treatment, but the court rejected that interpretation, finding that if the legislature had wanted to restrict it to those circumstances, it could have done so.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Carter v. Reese, Aug. 30, 2016, Ohio Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Tundidor v. Miami-Dade County – Canal Doesn’t Fall Under Maritime Law in Negligence Case, Aug. 15, 2016, Miami Personal Injury Attorney Blog

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