Good Samaritan law used to prove injured Samaritan was not liable for automobile accident where he stopped to render aid.

In this Indiana case, the Indiana Good Samaritan law is tested to determine if actions not defined as first aid, still are immune from liability under the law.

McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

State: Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: Bradley Montes

Defendant: Eric McGowen and Vision Logistics, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Indiana Good Samaritan Law

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2020

Summary

A truck driver pulled over to check on what appeared to be an injured man in a two-car accident. While asking the man if he was OK or needed medical help the plaintiff collided with the stopped truck. The truck driver could not be sued because the actions of the truck driver in checking on the condition of a person, appearing to be injured was protected by the Indiana Good Samaritan law.

Facts

On the morning of November 4, 2016, before the sun had risen, there was heavy fog in rural Tippecanoe County. McGowen was driving a semi-tractor (without a trailer) owned by his employer, Vision, on a two-lane county road. Traffic was sparse, but McGowen drove at thirty-five to forty miles per hour, well below the speed limit of fifty miles per hour, due to poor visibility. As he drove east, McGowen saw a truck in a ditch on the side of the road. The truck was upright and its headlights were on, pointing at McGowen’s semi as he approached. The truck’s roof, windshield, and hood were heavily damaged. McGowen also saw another vehicle stopped in the road near the truck, but that vehicle drove off as McGowen approached. McGowen speculated that there had been a two-car accident, and the other vehicle was leaving the scene.

P4 McGowen saw a man, later identified as Ryan Patton, “kind of wandering around” the truck. McGowen thought Patton “was drunk at first” or possibly injured.

P5 McGowen stopped his semi in the road. He kept his foot on the brake, rather than shifting the semi’s transmission to park. The semi’s rear brake lights activated automatically when the driver pressed on the brake pedal. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of vehicles approaching from behind.

McGowen rolled down the passenger window and asked Patton, “Are you okay?” Id. Patton climbed up to the semi’s passenger-side window and responded, “Yeah.” Id. Next, McGowen asked Patton if he wanted McGowen to call 911. Patton responded, “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Rebecca Higgins was traveling westbound on the same road and she saw the headlights of McGowen’s semi, stopped in the road. She pulled past the semi, parked on the side of the road opposite the semi, and activated her hazard lights. She saw Patton’s truck after she had passed the semi. Higgins also saw the semi’s brake lights.

Meanwhile, Montes was also driving east on the same county road. Higgins saw Montes’ car traveling in her direction. She activated her vehicle’s high beams to warn Montes, but he did not slow down. Higgins also rolled down her window, waved her arms, and yelled, but Montes still did not slow down. He instead collided with the rear of McGowen’s semi, without braking, immediately after Patton had asked McGowen to call 911. McGowen estimated no more than fifteen to thirty seconds had elapsed from the time he stopped until the time Montes struck the semi. Another vehicle that was also traveling east on the road, behind Montes, saw McGowen’s semi and stopped before hitting Montes’ car.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

Indiana’s Good Samaritan Laws are spread-out through the Indiana statutes and cover all sorts of individual actions. This happens for several reasons; one judge has narrowly interpreted the original law so that a new statute is added to cover the interpretation of the judge or an individual doesn’t understand the law and believe they need special protection and have the power and money to get it.

In this, case, the court focused on the central Good Sam Law, or GSL as the court identified it, § 34-30-12-1. Because Indiana has so many possibly conflicting statutes, the court tried to eliminate the statutes that did not apply, which, in and of itself, makes the case difficult to read and understand. The court stops its analysis of the Good Samaritan laws and looks at the claims of the defendant as to whether the action of the defendant occurred in an emergency.

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

The defendant truck driver stopped in the road to see if there had been a car accident and to see if the injured driver needed help. The court found the actions of the defendant truck driver fell within the law. Checking to see if someone needed help was covered as providing emergency care.

Based on the plain language of the statute, “emergency care” thus encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment. In addition, the Samaritan Law immunizes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” In the current case, it is undisputed that McGowen stopped his semi to ask Patton if he was okay and if McGowen should contact 911. McGowen was thus seeking to arrange medical treatment, as mentioned in the statute

The plaintiff argued that the Good Samaritan law only applied to the application of first aid to a person, thankfully the court disagreed.

If the General Assembly had intended to specify that “emergency care” meant only medical treatment or first aid, they could have done so. “We cannot add new words to a statute but are bound to apply statutes as the legislature has written them.” Matter of Supervised We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is “emergency care.”

The plaintiff also argued the actions of the truck driver in stopping to aid where gross, willful and wanton negligence. Gross negligence in Indiana is defined as:

The Indiana Supreme Court has defined gross negligence as “‘[a] conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of . . . the consequences to another party.'” A finding of gross negligence is predicated on a showing of negligence, as it is the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences.

The court found stopping at the scene of an accident in the way that occurred in this case was barely negligence, if that, and not gross negligence.

Willful and wanton conduct in Indiana is:

Turning to willful or wanton conduct, such conduct consists of two elements: “(1) the defendant must have knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury; and (2) the actor’s conduct must have exhibited an indifference to the consequence of his conduct.” “The distinction between constructive willfulness and mere negligence depends on the actor’s state of mind.”

The court in an attempt to point out the futility of the plaintiff’s case stated that driving on a two-lane road in fog at a high rate of speed was closer to willful and wanton conduct than stopping on the road to help someone.

The court then reversed the decision of the trial court and ordered the defendants motion for summary judgment be granted.

So Now What?

Although a very confusing automobile case, this decision has far-reaching effects for the outdoor industry.

  1. Indiana’s Good Samaritan law is to be interpreted broadly to included acts that are more than first aid.
  2. The definitions of gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence are clearly defined.

Having a Good Samaritan law that has a broad definition of what constitutes protection under the law is great. In outdoor recreation cases, many times rescue of the injured puts greater risk on both the injured and the rescuer. Putting your life in danger to save another should not be justification to be sued.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com    James H. Moss

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