Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Twelfth District: Law Blocks Amputee from Suing Good Samaritan

A trucker trapped between his rig and a loading dock cannot sue a man who was trying to free him when the rescuer accidentally let the tractor-trailer slip in reverse and crushed the trucker’s leg, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court upheld a Butler County Common Pleas Court grant of summary judgment to the rescuer and rejected the argument by the trucker that Ohio’s Good Samaritan civil immunity statute only applies when emergency medical care is rendered.

In April 2012, Dennis Carter was a truck driver for S&S Transfer, Inc., and had just hooked a trailer to his tractor at AIC Contracting, Inc. in Fairfield. He drove his rig forward four to six inches from the dock to make room to close the rear trailer door. As he tried to get back up on the dock after securing the closed door, his leg got stuck in the small space he made between the trailer and the dock. Carter started banging on the loading dock door and screaming for help. He saw a man in a pickup truck, later identified at Larry Reese Jr., in the lot of a company across the street. Reese came to Carter and offered to help.

According to the court, Carter asked Reese to move his truck forward about a foot and said “but whatever you do, don’t put it in reverse.” Carter said he heard Reese release the tractor’s airbrake and rev up the engine. Carter said he heard Reese yell that he could not get the truck in gear, and it rolled back.

Reese called 911 and paramedics transported Carter to University Hospital in Cincinnati where his right leg was amputated above the knee. Carter and his wife, Mary, filed suit against Reese alleging he failed to exercise reasonable care while operating the semi-truck.

The trial court granted Reese’s motion for summary judgment finding R.C. 2305.23, Ohio’s Good Samaritan statute, applied and protected Reese from any liability. Carter appealed the ruling arguing the case should go to trial because the statute does not protect non-medically trained individuals from liability. Further, Carter argued, he was unharmed when he was stuck between the dock and trailer, and the assistance Reese attempted to provide did not constitute emergency medical care.

Writing for the court majority, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson pointed out the statute states “(no) person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency outside of a hospital, doctor’s office, or other place having proper medical equipment, for acts performed at the scene of such emergency, unless such acts constitute willful and wanton misconduct.”

Carter interprets the term “emergency care” to mean only emergency medical care, Judge Hendrickson noted. “However, in construing a statute, a court may not add or delete words,” he wrote. “Therefore we hold that the Good Samaritan statute in R.C. 23025.23 applies to any person, health care professional or otherwise, who administers ‘emergency care,’ medical or otherwise, at the scene of an emergency and who meets the remaining requirements of the statute, e.g. their acts do constitute willful or wanton conduct.”

Judge Hendrickson determined an emergency clearly existed when Carter yelled so loud while stuck that he could be heard across the street, and Reese’s attempt to move the truck to free him constituted emergency care, which is covered by the immunity law.

The appeals court also deemed that Reese qualified for immunity because his actions were not “willful or wanton misconduct.” While Carter argued it was negligent for Reese to try to drive the truck when he did not know how to operate it, the court noted that proving willful and wanton conduct means Carter has to show Reese was far more than negligent.

Willful conduct would require Reese to deliberately not take an action that would make Carter safe or purposely did something knowing it was likely to lead to an injury. Wanton conduct would mean Reese failed “to exercise any care whatsoever” and must have consciously known his actions would result in injuries to Carter, the court concluded. “Here, (Reese’s) conduct clearly did not rise to the level of willful or wanton misconduct..,” Judge Hendrickson ruled.

Judge Robin N. Piper concurred in the decision.

Judge Robert P. Ringland dissented, agreeing with Carter that the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruling in Butler v. Rejon Jr. (2000) accurately stated the Good Samaritan law only applies to emergency medical care.¬†Judge Ringland said when the statute is “read in context and construed according to the rules of grammar and common usage,” one must be providing emergency medical care or treatment to another person to qualify for immunity.

Judge Ringland would have reversed the decision and remanded it to the trial court for further proceedings.

Carter v. Reese, 2014-Ohio-5395
Civil Appeal From: Butler County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: December 8, 2014

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