Court: Doctors Can’t Evade Liability as “Good Samaritans”

In the chaos of a hospital emergency room, it’s not uncommon for doctors, nurses and other staffers to rush to the aid of a person suffering an acute medical emergency, even if that person isn’t technically “their” patient.ambulance3

However, our medical malpractice attorneys in Fort Lauderdale know that this does not under the law make them “volunteers” or “Good Samaritans,” who are often granted immunity from liability in emergency situations.

This point was recently underscored in the case of Home Star Bank & Fin. Servs. v. Emergency Care & Health Org., Ltd., reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court. Here, a doctor who worked at a hospital and responded to a call for assistance in treating a critically ill patient, later attempted to shirk liability when the patient suffered permanent brain damage by claiming protection under the state’s “Good Samaritan” law.

In Florida, the “Good Samaritan Act” is codified in Florida Statute 768.13, and holds that any person – including someone who is licensed to practice medicine – who “gratuitously and in good faith” renders emergency medical care or treatment to someone can’t be held civilly liable for any damages resulting from such treatment.

Illinois has a similar law, though it does not stipulate, as Florida’s does, that the care covered is provided outside a hospital, doctor’s office or other place that has proper medical equipment.

These laws are meant to encourage people to help when they can in an emergency. They were never intended to serve as a shield for doctors who fail to abide by the acceptable level of care, resulting in a serious injury to a patient.

In the Illinois case, a young man was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room and later transferred to intensive care. He was diagnosed with a condition called epiglottitis, which is characterized by an inflammation of one’s windpipe. It can be deadly.

On the day in question, the patient began suffering from labored breathing and pain when he swallowed. Around 3 a.m., staffers called a “Code Blue” emergency. The defendant doctor was working in the emergency room at the time, and he responded to the code call. He attempted to intubate the patient. The patient subsequently suffered from severe and permanent brain injury as a result of oxygen loss.

His estate filed a negligence action against the doctor, alleging that the doctor’s care and treatment had been substandard.

The doctor denied the allegations, and pressed the court for a summary judgment. He asserted that he was immune from liability for negligence under the state’s Good Samaritan law, which states that any person who “in good faith” and “without fee” provides emergency medical care will not be held liable.

Although Illinois state law doesn’t stipulate that the act doesn’t apply to doctors working in hospitals, the fact is that medical staffers who are employed and on duty at the time they respond to an emergency are providing that care “with fee.” The doctor attempted to argue that he never billed the patient for his care.

However, the doctor was reimbursed a flat rate hourly for his time at the hospital. Just because he never provided a bill doesn’t mean his services were “without fee.”

Still, the circuit court sided with the doctor, finding him immune from liability. However, the appellate court reversed that ruling, and that decision was later affirmed by the state supreme court.

The high court definitively concluded by saying this: “The legislature never intended that Good Samaritan immunity would be available in this situation.”

If you have been injured, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.