An emergency room doctor whose allegedly negligent care resulted in a patient sustaining a traumatic brain injury will not be allowed to claim immunity under his state’s Good Samaritan Act, as he had tried to do when first confronted with the lawsuit.
Spartanburg injury lawyers know that medical malpractice defendants tend to have more resources than most to fight claims, and will mount a vigorous defense whenever possible. This doctor had attempted to assert that he was acting as a “volunteer” when responding to a Code Blue in an emergency room – despite the fact that he worked at the hospital, was compensated for his time there and was required by way of his contract to respond to Code Blue emergencies.
The trial court had initially granted the doctor summary judgment, but that was later reversed upon appeal and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the second decision.
Good Samaritan laws were designed to protect civilians who act in good faith in rendering emergency care to someone from liability for any resulting damages. In South Carolina, SC-GS Section 15-1-310 provides instruction on the issue. However, it was not the intent of the legislature, nor is it stated anywhere in the law, that physicians are covered by this statute when acting within the scope of their employment.
According to court records in the case of Home Star Bank & Fin. Servs. v. Emergency Care & Health Org., Ltd. the incident started when a patient who was rushed to the emergency room for care was later diagnosed as epiglottitis. This is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a small piece of cartilage covers the windpipe, swells and blocks the flow of air into the lungs. It can be caused by burns from hot liquids, infection or a direct injury to the throat.
Around 3:30 a.m., hospital staffers called “Code Blue” on the patient, as he had increased trouble breathing and swallowing. (This color code indicates a patient is in need of immediate resuscitation.) The defendant doctor was contracted with a third-party agency to provide his services at the hospital. He was working that morning, responded to the code and attempted to intubate the patient.
The patient suffered severe and permanent traumatic brain injury as a result.
When advocates for the patient filed suit, the doctor claimed immunity under the state’s Good Samaritan Act. He contended that he provided care to the patient and did not bill for that care. Thus, he claimed, he was volunteering.
His position was backed by his employer. A representative testified that although an emergency room Code Blue response was not required of this particular doctor in this particular setting, in cases where he did respond, it was “in the manner a good
Samaritan would respond to that dire emergency.”
However, there was no question that the doctor was paid hourly. He was not allowed to bill patients directly, by the terms of his contract. The plaintiffs contended the doctor was simply doing his job, and because he was paid, he was not carrying out these actions “without fee,” as the Illinois Good Samaritan statute requires.
Initially, the trial court sided with the doctor. However, that position was later reversed and the state supreme court affirmed.
The court raised the concern that the statutory language in the state law – specifically the part that indicated services be rendered “without fee” could create a situation where doctors could engineer immunity for medical malpractice claims simply by not billing for the services rendered. However, the justices noted that earlier case law had addressed this by determining that the decision of who falls under the state’s Good Samaritan Act should be based on whether the action was made in good faith – and not for the purpose of avoiding liability.
Throughout the country, Good Samaritan laws were passed to encourage people to help out another person who is in immediate danger. It was never intended to shield negligent doctors from liability for damages incurred as a result of their mistakes.
Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Home Star Bank & Fin. Servs. v. Emergency Care & Health Org., Ltd., March 20, 2014, Illinois Supreme Court
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