What began with one motorist trying to help another one wound up as a deadly crash which involved a passenger car and a semi-truck.
According to investigators, a 77-year-old Englewood, Colo. man was westbound on Interstate 24 when he struck the north guardrail. A man in a semi-truck tried to stop his rig to help the man. But he lost control of his vehicle and slid into the partially-disabled Mercedes. First responders rushed the Colorado man to a nearby hospital, but he did not survive.
The truck driver was not hurt.
Kentucky’s Good Samaritan Law
This law made headlines in 2015 when lawmakers expanded it to include overdose deaths. Previously, authorities often prosecuted people who brought drug overdose victims to hospitals. Frequently, these charges included manslaughter. Today, these individuals are immune from civil and criminal liability, if they act in good faith.
A similar provision protects individuals who use Automated External Defibrillators to revive heart attack patients. This protection is important. AEDs are powerful devices. If they are used incorrectly, the situation could end very badly.
The portion of Kentucky’s Good Samaritan law which concerns us most is the part which applies to roadside Good Samaritans, much like the original one this law is based on. Almost every state has such a law, but the one in the Bluegrass State is a bit different. Generally, these individuals are immune from civil liability unless there is evidence of:
- Willful misconduct or
- Gross negligence.
In a few other instances, immunity applies if the person “acts as an ordinary, reasonable prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.”
As a practical matter, if you stop and try to help someone, you are typically immune from liability, even if you make things worse. In this context, people are usually grossly negligent if they try to help, quit, and thereby make things worse, or if they do something beyond the pale, like moving a back injury victim who is not in immediate danger.
This law also protects individuals who pass by on the other side of the road. Even doctors and other professionals are immune if they do not help injury victims.
Laws like this one could affect legal responsibility for damages. The truck driver in the above story is a good example.
The trucker’s insurance company would almost certainly argue that the Good Samaritan law protects him. That could be true. After all, reasonable people often stop and try to help people who are hurt. But good intentions do not alter the duty of reasonable care. This duty requires commercial operators to avoid accidents when possible.
So, even if a police officer says you were at fault for an accident, always ask a Lexington personal injury attorney to evaluate your case.
On a different note, some people believe adverse weather is essentially an informal Good Samaritan law. They believe they can blame their negligent driving on bad weather. But in fact, the opposite is true.
Fundamentally, excessive speed causes most weather-related wrecks. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are travelling too fast to control their vehicles on slick roads or to avoid icy patches. In these situations, drivers have a duty to slow down to a reasonable speed. The posted speed limit means nothing when the weather is very bad.
Furthermore, the same responsibilities apply to everyone. It does not matter if you have never driven on ice before or if you were a star of Ice Road Truckers.
Wrongful Death Claims and Third Party Liability
If victims do not survive car accidents, their survivors or their legal representatives can usually file claims on their behalf in probate court. No amount of money replaces a loss like this, but the available compensation makes it easier for survivors to carry on. This compensation usually includes:
- Lost future financial support,
- Funeral and burial expenses,
- Lost future emotional support,
- Medical expenses related to the decedent’s final illness or injury, and
- Noneconomic damages for things like emotional distress.
Especially if the victim was a young person, this compensation could be substantial. Many people earn several million dollars during their lifetimes. The amount of emotional support they provide is almost incalculable.
Frequently, individual tortfeasors do not have enough insurance coverage to make good on these damages. Therefore, vicarious liability theories, like respondeat superior, are quite important in these claims. These theories give these victims additional sources of recovery.
Respondeat superior usually applies if the tortfeasor was a truck driver, Uber driver, or other commercial operator. Employers are financially responsible for damages if their employees are negligent during the scope of their employment.
Kentucky’s laws defines all these key phrases and words in broad, victim-friendly terms. For example, independent contractors are usually employees for negligence purposes. Most owner-operators and even some unpaid volunteers, like church van drivers, are also employees in this context.
Actions of Good Samaritans often affect the outcome of negligence claims. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance. #goodelawyers