The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on August 30 that the state’s Good Samaritan law applies to anyone administering emergency treatment or care at the scene of an emergency. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Dennis Carter and his wife against Larry Reese Jr.
The lawsuit was filed in April of 2012, following events that caused Carter’s leg to be broken so severely that he needed to have it amputated above the knee. Leading up to the injury, Carter pulled his truck into a loading dock operated by AIC Contracting Inc. in Fairfield, OH. As he attempted to pull away a second trailer, Carter shifted his truck between four to six inches from the loading dock, locked the tractor brake to stop its wheels from moving, and unlocked the trailer’s brake. While attempting to close the trailer’s door behind him, Carter slipped and trapped his leg between the trailer and loading dock.
Reese heard Carter’s cries for help approximately 10 minutes later, and drove into the lot to attempt to give assistance. After being told to move the truck forward about a foot, Reese climbed up into the cab, put it in neutral, and finally realized that he has no idea how to shift the truck into gear. The trailer then rolled back and broke Carter’s leg. Paramedics arrived at the scene four minutes later to free and care for Carter.
During the initial lawsuit, Reese used R.C. 2305.23, the Ohio Good Samaritan statute, as defense for his actions. The statute states that:
“No person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency…, for acts performed at the scene of such emergency, unless such acts constitute willful or wanton misconduct.”
During the Ohio Supreme Court proceedings, Justice Terrence O’Donnell, who voted in favor of dismissing the lawsuit against Reese in the 4-3 decision, noted that Good Samaritan laws apply to different groups of people depending on the state. Some only apply to medical professionals, others apply to anyone administering only medical aid, and the rest apply to anyone who provides emergency assistance and care. In his opinion, Justice O’Donnell concluded that Ohio’s Good Samaritan law falls under that third category1:
“If the legislature had intended that this statute apply only to health care professionals, it could have expressed its intent by using a more limiting phrase such as ‘no health care professional shall be liable in civil damages’ or by naming the categories of individuals it intended to exclude from liability, e.g., physicians or nurses.”
Justice O’Donnell’s opinion was joined by Justices Judith L. French. Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill.
The dissenting Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger, Paul E. Pfeifer, and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor objected to Carter’s situation being considered an emergency, because while he was unable to free himself, he was in no immediate pain or danger. In his dissent, Justice Pfeifer wrote that1:
“What Carter needed was a person competent to move a tractor-trailer forward without allowing any movement backward. That did not have to be done immediately or urgently-it needed to be done well. Unfortunately, it was not done well, because Reese didn’t know how to drive a tractor-trailer. Reese should have sought assistance from a competent driver. Instead, he inserted himself into a situation that did not demand immediate action and made the situation much worse.”