Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Win Situation

The pundit who said 'The law is an ass.' had it absolutely right.

In an unanimous decision last week, the California Supreme Court ruled a woman could sue her rescuer because Lisa Torti's attempt was not with due care.

Back on Nov 1, 2004 Alexandra Van Horn was a front seat passenger when the car she was riding in spun out of control and hit a pole, the pole toppled and the air bags deployed. Lisa Torti was in a car following and saw the accident. Both women, with friends, were returning from a night of drinking and apparently earlier use of cannabis. Ms. Torti rushed to render aid fearing the car was about to explode. As ABC News also notes, both women's accounts of that night are radically different. Torti claims she carefully lifted Van Horn from the car and set her down somewhere more safe. Van Horn's lawyer claims Torti yanked the woman out and dropped her on the ground next to the car. When the doctors examined Van Horn it was found she had a lacerated liver along with spinal damage that has left Van Horn in a wheelchair.

This ruling by the Supreme Court clears the way for Van Horn to sue Torti after her original suit against Torti was summarily thrown out, even though the justices themselves are divided over interpretation of the Good Samaritan Law they all ruled Torti can be sued. Van Horn is also suing Anthony Glen Watson, driver of the car she was in at the time of the accident. This is a true indicator that Van Horn is not after justice since she is suing in civil court two different people for the same injury.

This seems to be a narrowly defined case except for that majority opinion of the Supreme Court. Judge Moreno writing for that majority said Sec 1799.102 was meant only to protect medical personnel who are carrying out their duties. Baxter in a dissenting opinion argued that was too narrow of an interpretation and if the state government had meant to shield only medical personnel they would have stuck that wording in Sec 1799.102, which they did not.

The upshot of this is will be reticence by anyone not a medical professional or trained in life-saving from going to the aid of their neighbor or total stranger who is in distress. As Baxter wrote, this will be the quandary each person in such a situation will face: "One who dives into swirling waters to retrieve a drowning swimmer can be sued for incidental injury he or she causes while bringing the victim to shore, but is immune for harm he or she produces while thereafter trying to revive the victim."

So in the parable of the Good Samaritan, updated version, as that man lays on the side of the road robbed and injured, the Samaritan walks past him fearful of being sued by the man after he recovers. Thus the man expires on the side of the road because no one was willing to come to his aid.


Ed Rasimus said...

Don't credit a pundit with "the law is an ass."

It was Charles Dickens who wrote it in Oliver Twist, placing the words in the mouth of Mr. Bumble.

But the anecdote clearly (once again) highlights the litigious society we live in and the need for tort reform.

Rides A Pale Horse said...

"No good deed goes unpunished"

Tom said...

Obviously, a gold digger of a different color.

Off topic, but I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.

Anna said...

Ed, sir, I stand corrected. I most humbly beg forgiveness. Please don't 'bah humbug' me!

RAPH, unfortutely all too true. And that email you sent was spiffy.

And Tom, yes Van Horn seems to crave green and not the ecological green.

Too all a Merry Christmas.