Letting You Burn: At Least Chin Was Part Of The Dissenting Three

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The only thing good to come out of the recent case where the California Supreme Court ruled that you can be sued for helping someone out of a life or death situation was simply that at least Justice Ming W. Chin was a part of the dissenting Justices who said this (written by Justice Baxter):

Under the majority’s distorted statutory reading, an uncompensated lay volunteer — whether or not trained in the rudiments of first aid — is immune for any incompetent and injurious medical assistance he or she renders to a person in need of medical treatment, but is fully exposed to civil liability for emergency rescue or transportation efforts intended to prevent injury to an endangered victim in the first instance, or to ensure that a victim in need of immediate medical treatment can receive it.

Thus, in the majority’s view, a passerby who, at the risk of his or her own life, saves someone about to perish in a burning building can be sued for incidental injury caused in the rescue, but would be immune for harming the victim during the administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation out on the sidewalk. A hiker can be sued if, far from other help, he or she causes a broken bone while lifting a fallen comrade up the face of a cliff to safety, but would be immune if, after waiting for another member of the party to effect the rescue, he or she set the broken bone incorrectly. 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.

Here, the result is that defendant Torti has no immunity for her bravery in pulling her injured friend from a crashed vehicle, even if she reasonably believed it might be about to explode, though she would have been immune if, after waiting for someone else to undertake the physical and legal risk of rescue, she then caused harm by attempting to administer to the victim’s injuries at the roadside.
I cannot believe the Legislature intended results so illogical, and so at odds with the clear statutory language. I therefore respectfully dissent from the majority’s interpretation of section 1799.102.
Just for the record - if I see kids trapped inside a school bus that got turned over in an accident and there's a bunch of smoke coming from it and no one's there yet - I'm not doing shit because I'm a law abiding citizen and this ruling tells me that unless I'm administering medical assistance I should let those kids burn -- because I could get sued, and if I could get sued that means I'm probably doing something wrong or breaking the law and that's really the last thing I should be doing.

But I will lob some barbecue sauce into the windows courtesy of the California Supreme Court.