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Supreme Court of Ohio defines Good Samaritan statute

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The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Good Samaritan law protects not only medical professionals but also citizens aiding in emergency.

This came out of a 4-3 decision on Tuesday, Aug. 30, which favored the defendant, Larry Reese Jr, in the case of Carter v. Reese. The Court ruled the phrase “administering emergency care” under Ohio’s Good Samaritan law applies not just to medical care, but also to any other form of assistance to the safety and well-being of another person when the situation calls for immediate action.

The Good Samaritan statute formally states that “no person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency outside of a hospital, doctor’s office, or other place having proper medical equipment, for acts performed at the scene of such emergency, unless such acts constitute willful or wanton misconduct.”

The interpretation of the statute was heavily debated after a 2012 accident involving a tractor trailer. Plaintiff Dennis Carter was trapped by his tractor trailer, and Reese — not knowing how to properly drive a trailer — came to help, which resulted in Carter’s leg amputation. Reese got into the truck at the request of Carter, who had been calling for help.

The plaintiff’s case pleaded to the court that the statute is inclusive only to medical personnel, and therefore does not protect Reese from liability.

“We still feel because recklessness and intentional conduct weren’t alleged and we’re just dealing with negligence that 2305.23 (the Good Samaritan statute) shields him (Reese) from liability for trying to provide this emergency care,” Katherine A. Clemons, Reese’s attorney, argued during the trial.

During the oral argument held Jan. 5, 2016, there was debate surrounding whether Reese’s actions are protected by the statute for two reasons: The first reason being that Reese was not a medical professional and the second concerning if the accident constitutes as an “emergency” as defined by the statute.

Nationwide, the Good Samaritan statute is clarified and written in different ways. In California, the statute was written to dissipate fear of committing malpractice among physicians during emergency situations. California pioneered this statute, causing other states to follow in the creation of similar laws.

The language of the various statutes differ in that some states include only medical professionals, and others include citizens with no medical background along with the professionally trained, according to a press release from the Supreme Court of Ohio.

“The Good Samaritan statute does not apply to this case because, although Reese provided care, he did so when urgent or immediate action was not necessary,” argued the dissenting side. “Dennis Carter was trapped, to be sure. But he was not in pain, and he was not in danger. He was inconvenienced and he wanted to get out, but the situation did not demand urgent action. It demanded rational action, reasoned to fit the situation. Hesitation or delay was not dangerous to Carter, because he was not in pain and no detrimental change in his situation was imminent.”

The majority opinion determined that the suit filed against Reese was invalid, and that the statute protects him from liability.

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