Schwarzenegger shields Good Samaritans from lawsuits

Chris Rizo Aug. 7, 2009, 12:00am

Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Good Samaritans in California are now protected from civil liability, under legislation signed this week by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The two new laws, which took effect immediately, were drafted in response to a state Supreme Court decision late last year that said state law only partially protected those who voluntarily act as Good Samaritans from possible negligence lawsuits.

"Now Good Samaritans have no reason to hesitate to responsibly help someone in an emergency out of fear that they might be sued," said state Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles.

His legislation -- Assembly Bill 83 -- affords protections to anyone assisting at the scene of an emergency, regardless of whether they are trained personnel, unless they act recklessly.

The bill, which passed the Legislature unanimously, was supported by the Civil Justice Coalition of California, a tort reform group.

"This legislation encourages Californians to look out for each other at a time when public resources are all too scarce," Feuer said. "I'm proud of the broad coalition that came together to make this common sense law possible."

A second civil liability-related bill - this one by Republican Sen. John Benoit of Riverside -- expands legal protections for providing any emergency care. Senate Bill 39 shields volunteer workers who perform disaster services.

"Good Samaritans should never again have to second-guess the consequences of helping," said Benoit, a former Highway patrol commander. "Thankfully, the chilling effect that last December's court ruling had on people willing to help in times of emergency has been drastically diminished because of this law's immediate implementation."

In December the state's high court in a controversial 4-3 ruling found that California law protects only medical professionals from civil damages when they attempt to care for someone in an emergency situation.

The case followed a 2004 Halloween night crash in which one woman pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle. Her rough handling of the victim, who suffered spinal injury, is believed to have contributed to the victim's paralysis. The paralyzed woman then sued her co-worker who tried to help her.

In 1980, the California Legislature enacted a law that states "no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages results from any act or omission."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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