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article imageGood Samaritan Can Be Sued. Bad Judgment?

By Carol Forsloff     Dec 21, 2008 in Lifestyle
Someone is stuck in a car at risk for explosion or plunged into a river where the occupant is in danger. If you decide to play a Good Samaritan and rescue someone, you could be sued for doing it according to the decision of the California Supreme Court.
People are outraged about the fact that the Court decided that those who provide non-medical assistance can be sued if injuries result. But do we know all the facts and is the rush-to-judgment public reaction justified?
This recent case, presently debated in the press and by the public, develops from a decision made by the court about the rights of an accident victim to sue for injuries received when someone removed her from a vehicle that had been badly damaged after an automobile accident involving an automobile carrying a group of people going home from work. The Court declared that a Good Samaritan who pulled a co-worker out of the damaged car can be sued for her actions because the care she provided wasn’t medical. Northridge resident Lisa Torti maintains that her injuries were worsened by the actions of Alexandria Van Horn who allegedly yanked her "like a rag doll" from the car that had crashed on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
This Good Samaritan issue has caused serious outcry from people around the country, which appears to be reasonable; but there may be elements of the case that people don’t know. However, given what has happened with other sensational cases, perhaps it might be reasonable to reserve judgment about it until all the facts are known. It’s easy to become emotional over something where only the rough outlines of the case are been presented, so responsible experts suggest that everyone wait until case conclusions, before deciding whether the Court made the right decision or not. One famous case gives an example of how a rush-to-judgment response can be wrong.
On the surface, this recent case of the Good Samaritan smacks of the famous case of the lawsuit against McDonalds over hot coffee. The company was sued and received a judgment against it following a jury decision that the plaintiff, a 79-year-old woman named Mrs. Liebeck, deserved compensation for injuries received when hot coffee spilled onto her lap.
The coffee case continues to be used in citizen debate about the problems with the legal system and how tort reform is important. But most people don’t know the whole story, and newspapers failed to give the same front page coverage it gave to the original suit and trial. It turned out Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries were serious enough for her to be disabled for two years. She required skin grafts and had to use a wheelchair after receiving serious burns that covered 16% of her body, according to the legal decision reported in the press sometime after case closure. Furthermore it was found that McDonalds’ coffee was served much hotter than the 135 to 140 degrees it should be and at a temperature that could cause third degree burns in seconds, according to experts. Ms. Liebeck, the victim, tried to settle with McDonalds for $2000, but the company offered only $800. So the case went to court. Still people continue to talk about the ridiculous legal system that allows folks to sue over a simple cup of coffee, without knowing the real facts of the case. In the meantime Mrs Liebeck, the plaintiff, likely had to suffer twice: once from the incident itself and then as a victim of public ridicule and outrage against the court’s decision. Critics continue to worry about how the press, politicians, and late-night comics distort the facts, giving the wrong information or impression to the public.
Lisa Torti, the plaintiff in the civil case regarding the Good Samaritan is paraplegic following the accident and attests that this might not have happened had Van Horn waited for professional rescue help to arrive. The Court agreed that she could pursue her case. There has been no decision about the guilt or innocent of Van Horn. Only the right of the plaintiff to pursue her case in court has been the court’s decree.
The Good Samaritan case has created a new public outcry about the unfairness of the legal system and its need for overhaul. However, given what was later learned in the McDonald{image coffee case, perhaps it might be reasonable for the public to wait before deciding that just being a Good Samaritan is the issue.
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