Carter v. Reese – Good Samaritan Laws Protect Those Who Hurt While Trying to Help
Gregg Hollander | September 4, 2016 | Trucking Accidents
Good Samaritan laws exist throughout the country and are intended to offer legal protection to persons who may otherwise be reluctant to provide assistance to someone who is injured, incapacitated or in danger. These laws can be complex and vary from state-to-state.
Florida’s Good Samaritan Act, F.S. 768.13, indicates that any person – including those who practice medicine – who act willingly and in good faith to provide emergency care or treatment to someone in an emergency won’t be liable for civil damages resulting from this aid or treatment. If the person who is helping causes harm, he or she is generally only liable if they:
- Failed to use reasonable care;
- Showed reckless disregard for the consequences.
That is, the person knew or should have known that his or her actions were going to result in an unreasonable risk of injury to someone. Much leeway is given to helpers in emergency situations, though this protection doesn’t necessarily cover every scenario. It’s best to consult with a personal injury attorney who can help weigh the strength of a claim.
The recent Ohio Supreme Court case of Carter v. Reese was an example of some of the challenges that can arise in overcoming a Good Samaritan Act defense. The issue was whether, per the language of the statute, the phrase “administering emergency care” was applicable only to medical personnel – as plaintiff argued – or if it referred to any other form of safety and well-being of another in cases where an unforeseen combination of circumstances requires immediate action – as defendant argued.
According to court records, plaintiff was a truck driver who had pulled his tractor-trailer into a loading dock to unload it and pick up an empty trailer. After plaintiff attached the second trailer to his truck, he tried to pull himself onto the dock so he could close the truck door. However, he slipped and his leg got wedged between the loading dock and the trailer. He wasn’t in pain at that point, but he was stuck. He called for help for 10 minutes before defendant heard his pleas for help and came to his aid.
Plaintiff asked defendant to get in the truck and move it forward about one foot, but stated clearly, “Whatever you do, don’t put it in reverse.” Defendant answered, “No problem.”
However, it was a problem because soon after defendant put the truck in gear, he realized he didn’t actually know how to operate this particular rig. The truck moved backward. Plaintiff’s leg was crushed. The severity of the injuries required an amputation of his leg below the knee.
Plaintiff sued defendant (who worked for a different company than plaintiff), alleging negligence. Defendant asserted the Good Samaritan statute as a defense and moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted it pursuant to the statute and the appeals court affirmed. Plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court, arguing that the statute provided only protection to medical personnel who provided “emergency care.”
In its decision to affirm, the state high court noted the language of the statute that stated the law applies “to any person, health care professional or otherwise, who administers emergency care, medical or otherwise…”
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Carter v. Reese , Aug. 30, 2016, Ohio Supreme Court
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