NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT DECISION LIMITS
IMMUNITY FROM SUIT UNDER GOOD SAMARITAN ACT
New Jersey’s Good Samaritan Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-1, immunizes from suit any Good Samaritan who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim, or while transporting the victim to a hospital or other facility where treatment or care is to be rendered. The Act does not specifically state whether it applies to emergencies occurring inside a hospital. Some statutes in other states directly answer this question; others leave it to judicial interpretation. Until now, this question had not received a definitive answer in New Jersey.
In Velazquez v. Jiminez, No. A-105-00 (New Jersey Supreme Court, May 29, 2002), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the Act covers only those situations in which a physician or other volunteer comes, by chance, upon a victim who requires immediate emergency medical care, at a location compromised by lack of adequate facilities, equipment, expertise, sanitation and staff, and does not provide immunity to a hospital physician who assists a patient at the hospital during a medical emergency.
In Velazquez, the defendant physician argued that the Act should protect her because she acted even though she had no duty to the patient. She asserted that (1) before the emergency, she was not the patient’s attending physician and had no relationship with the patient, (2) her position at the hospital was such that she had no responsibility to the patient and therefore no duty to act as to this patient, and (3) she had responded, even though she had no duty to do so, when Mrs. Velazquez’ attending physician rang for assistance when complications occurred during the birth of Mrs. Velazquez’ baby. The Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning that the Good Samaritan law is ambiguous on this issue, and that a law conferring immunity should be narrowly construed. The Court interpreted the use of the limiting language “at the scene of an emergency” as intending to limit the reach of the Act to only those locations at which the provision of adequate and necessary medical care is compromised by existing conditions. Thus, the Court held, the law does not extend immunity to a physician who responds to an emergency occurring in a hospital.
June 7, 2002