Good Samaritan Rescues Children From Burning Vehicle

A mother faces multiple charges after she allegedly drove off the road while intoxicated, causing serious injuries to her four children.

State troopers say that 29-year-old Kate Davis lost control of her 2005 Buick while northbound on U.S. Highway 165 near State Highway 101. The van left the road, entered a ditch, smashed into a culvert, and went airborne before eventually coming to rest in another ditch. The vehicle caught fire, and a passing motorist — whose name was not released — pulled the children out of the burning wreckage, sustaining severe burns in the process. All the serious injury victims were transported to local hospitals, but they are all expected to survive.

Only one child was properly retrained. Authorities charged Ms. Davis with her third DUI, child endangerment, resisting arrest, making an unsafe lane change, and several other violations.

Good Samaritan Liability

Sometimes, people ask us if Good Samaritans, or people who try to help serious injury victims, can be held liable if they are not successful. In some states, the answer is yes, but here in Louisiana, Good Samaritans are immune from serious injury lawsuits.

There are actually two such laws in Louisiana:

  • Doctors and First Responders: Under 37.1731, physicians, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and any other emergency responders who render gratuitous aid are not liable for any damages. This law also applies to unlicensed doctors and nurses, as long as they are licensed in another state.
  • Other Responders: 9.2793 provides that no one who renders gratuitous aid in good faith “shall be liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission in rendering the care or services.”

These laws are quite broad, but there is one major exception, because 9.2793 does not provide immunity if the Good Samaritan makes things worse. Assume the bystander in the above story tried to extinguish the flames with water, but since the fire was electrical, the water just made the fire get bigger. People who assume voluntary tasks like this one also take on a duty of care, and so according to the negligent undertaking doctrine, the Good Samaritan could be held liable in that situation.

Damages Available

As a general rule, tortfeasors (negligent actors) are legally responsible for the serious injury damages they cause and cannot benefit from serendipitous events, like a Good Samaritan rescuer. So, in most of these cases, victims are entitled to the same amount of economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, as they would have received otherwise. Punitive damages may also be available, in some cases.

Louisianans can generally help each other out without fear of legal repercussions. For a free consultation with Lee Hoffoss or another experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. We are licensed in both Texas and Louisiana.