Gospel of Luke, chapter 7, verses 25-37:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead with no clothes.
A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
As a child growing up in Nebraska, we were taught at an early age — in Church and in the Boy Scouts — that if you did good, if you did the right thing, you were protected under the law.
It was drummed into us to always be on the lookout for the hurt and the wounded. If you came upon a car crash and you saw someone trapped inside, it was your moral duty to leap from the fresco and into the rescue.
You were to pull that person out of the wreckage at any cost to your life and limb — or theirs — and drag them to safety.
“What if,” one of us Scouts asked, “we hurt the person dragging them to safety? What if we try CPR and we don’t do it right and we kill the person? Then what?”
“Then,” our Troop Leader assured us, “you are protected by the State of Nebraska’s Good Samaritan Law. You cannot be blamed for helping a person in need. The state wants you to help those in distress. It is your duty as a good citizen.”
Many states have Good Samaritan Laws. Here’s how the current Nebraska Good Samaritan Law 25-21,186 reads:
Emergency care at scene of emergency; persons relieved of civil liability, when. No person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or other emergency gratuitously, shall be held liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering the emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for medical treatment or care for the injured person.
Imagine my adulthood moral confusion when I read this morning that a woman in California was being sued for being a prime example of a good citizen under the state’s Good Samaritan Law:
No good deed goes unpunished, or so goes the saying.
Such was the case with Lisa Torti, who is being sued for pulling a now-paralyzed friend from the wreckage of a Los Angeles car accident in 2004.
The victim’s lawyers claim the Good Samaritan bumbled the rescue and caused injury by yanking her friend “like a rag doll” to safety.
But Torti — now a 30-year-old interior designer from Las Vegas — said she thought she had seen smoke and feared the car would explode. She claims she was only trying to help her friend, Alexandra Van Horn, and her own life has been adversely affected by the incident.
“I know [Van Horn] has a lot of financial issues and her life has changed,” she said. “But it’s not my fault. I can’t be angry at her, only the path she has chosen to take. I can only pray it helps her.”
“I don’t have any more fight left,” Torti told ABCNews.com, choking back tears. “It’s really emotional.”
In a stunning 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of California ruled against Good Samaritan Torti by allowing Van Horn to sue for her paralysis. The court majority said that the Good Samaritan law is a shield intended only for those that provide “medical assistance” and not just “rescue.”
If Van Horn had been drowning in a swimming pool and Torti yanked her out of the pool, provided CPR, and Van Horn became paralyzed — the Good Samaritan Law would protect Torti — but since the car was not on fire when Torti rescued Van Horn without medical aid, the law is not provided as a shield for Torti.
This California court ruling will do great damage to Good Samaritan Laws across the United States because people will fail to want to act — precisely what the law is intended to avoid — or they will have an internal debate before acting as they try to decide if their intervention is “medical” or merely “rescuing” and in those precious moments while that decision to act or not is being debated is the difference between living and dying.