Saturday, May 23, 2009
Doctors as Good Samaritans
As a physician, I took an oath and I believe it is my duty to render aid if I can in just about any situation. I am not particularly "risk adverse" but I can understand when other physicians feel it is just not worth the risk. A malpractice suit can be a disaster.
When EMTs arrive, I give a report to them and back off as they have the tools and training to transport the victim for more advanced care. It happens all the time. A woman faints at a wedding. A child collides at a soccer game and the coaches rush the field. A man has chest pain while 20,000 feet in the air on Jet Blue. A motorcycle spins out of control and throws the rider, right in front of my car. A runner collapses at the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. When this happens a little bell goes off in my head before anyone even has to say "Is there a doctor in the house?" So I rush in to provide service.
I never stopped to think about the liability I was incurring by being a "good samaritan". Good Samaritan Laws are meant to protect bystanders from being prosecuted when they help a victim in distress. I was under the impression that Good Samaritan Laws protected everyone who renders aid in an emergency. Upon research, however, I found the statutes are different in every state and have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. The laws are cumbersome and difficult to interpret and the California Supreme Court recently upheld a victims right to sue after a bystander pulled her from a wreck and she suffered a spinal cord injury from being moved. The court ruled there was not "immediate peril". Other laws only protect the first responder.
With websites like "WhoCanISue.com" and "SueEasy.com" (no I am not providing a link!), it is obvious that anyone can sue for anything. Doctors are prime targets, of course, because we carry malpractice coverage and are juicy deep pockets for trial attorneys.
Because of my training and expertise and comfort in disaster situations, I believe it is my duty to render aid no matter where there is a need. I am not particularly "risk adverse" but I can now understand when other physicians feel it is just not worth the risk to get involved. A malpractice suit can be a disaster.
What do you readers think?
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 8:14 AM