The "Good Samaritan Rule" is not uniform throughout the United States. The major contrast is present in Indiana's Good Samaritan law which has been narrowly drafted to protect only those individuals who render emergency care at the seen of an accident. Massachusetts has drafted a broader statute that encompasses many circumstances not covered in Indiana. Massachusetts physicians and nurses can render emergency aid other than in the ordinary course of their practice not related to an "accident" and not be liable for medical malpractice.
Massachusetts has a "Good Samaritan Rule" M.G.L. 112 § 12B which reads as follows:
No physician duly registered under the provisions of section two or two A, nine, nine A, and nine B and no nurse duly registered or licensed under the provisions of section seventy-four, seventy-four A or seventy-six, or resident in another state, in the District of Columbia or in a province of Canada, and duly registered therein who, in good faith, as a volunteer without fee, renders emergency care or treatment, other than in the ordinary course of his practice, shall be liable in a suit for damages as a result of his acts or omissions, nor shall he be liable to a hospital for expenses if, under such emergency conditions, he orders a person hospitalized or causes his admission.
The key to a physician or nurse being exempt from civil liability in Massachusetts is to have acted as a volunteer and without fee and other than in the ordinary course of his or her practice. In the Massachusetts case of Hopper v. Callahan, the plaintiff\patient was sent to the Fuller Hospital on an involuntary basis for exacerbated schizophrenia. During her stay defendant\Dr. Parks went to the fifth floor to treat the plaintiff because no other physician was available. Dr. Parks signed seclusion orders but failed to see the plaintiff. The plaintiff was subsequently found by a nurse in a unresponsive state and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Boston City Hospital.
Dr. Parks claimed immunity under M.G.L. 112 § 12B claiming he saw the plaintiff under an emergency situation because there was no other physician available. The court held that "Parks came to the fifth floor ward of Fuller to treat Hopper because no other physician was available; he had authority to order her seclusion; he was responsible for her care...he had a salaried position when working his required hours at Fuller. The record does not show any dispute of material fact concerning Park's status as a Good Samaritan. Indeed, it seems that Parks, while compensated for his services, acted in the ordinary course of his practice..." 562 N.E.2d 822, 830 (1990). The court concluded that Dr. Parks was not covered by the Good Samaritan law as he did not render care and treatment under an emergency situation, and the care that he did render was in the ordinary course of his practice.
Indiana recently addressed the issue of what types of situations are covered by their Good Samaritan law. In Beckerman v. Gordon, a women who died from cardiac arrest was not a victim of an "accident," and her physician, who had treated her during a house call, was therefor not immune from liability for medical malpractice. The court reasoned that for Indiana's Good Samaritan law to apply to the physician, he must have rendered emergency care at the scene of an accident or to a victim of an accident. 614 N.E.2d 610 (1993).
A California court held that physicians who operated on a patient with serious injuries as a result of an automobile accident were not entitled to the protection of the Good Samaritan statute. The court reasoned that the physicians who performed the medical treatment as part of their duties on a hospital emergency team had sufficient pre-existing duty to perform the treatment to render the Good Samaritan statute inapplicable. Colby v. Schwartz, 78 Cal App 3d 885, 144 Cal Rptr 624 (1978 2d Dist). The statute granted immunity to licensed persons who rendered emergency care at the scene of an emergency, and for emergency care rendered to a person for a medical complication arising from prior care by another person so licensed.
In conclusion it is important to remember that for a physician or nurse to be covered under the Massachusetts Good Samaritan law he or she must have fulfilled the following elements of M.G.L. 112 § 12B and they are as follows:
1) They must be duly registered and licensed
2) as a volunteer without fee
3) and in good faith
4) render emergency care and treatment
5) other than in the ordinary course of their practice (This passage was substituted for "at the scene of an accident to any person injured on the highway as the result of a motor vehicle accident" on June 28, 1965.)
Physicians outside of Massachusetts should contact the legal counsel in their respective hospitals to be up to date on their state's Good Samaritan law.
Physicians outside of Massachusetts can also contact attorney Frank Reardon at the Risk Management Foundation to obtain up to date information on their state's Good Samaritan Law.
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