Van Horn v. Watson


After a night of drinking and smoking marijuana together, plaintiff and defendant Lisa Torte were traveling in separate vehicles. The vehicle that plaintiff was in spun out and struck a light pole. Torte’s vehicle stopped behind plaintiff’s car and the passengers attempted to assist the occupants. Torte claimed that she saw smoke coming from the vehicle and carefully removed plaintiff for fear the vehicle would catch fire. In contrast, plaintiff and co-defendants claim there was no indication the vehicle might explode and that Torte pulled plaintiff out like a rag doll. Plaintiff sustained an injury to her cervical vertebrae, which resulted in paralysis. Plaintiff claimed that defendant Torte’s conduct in jerking her from the car caused the paralysis.

Torte obtained summary judgment in the trial court on the grounds that the Good Samaritan statute provided immunity for any injury she may have caused in rendering aid. The section relied upon provides, “no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. …”


The California Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s decision and interpretation of the Good Samaritan immunity statute. Because Torte was not rendering “emergency care,” she was not protected. The duty of a Good Samaritan was summarized by the California Supreme Court as follows:

“While there is no general duty to help, a Good Samaritan who nonetheless undertakes to come to the aid of another is under a duty to exercise due care in performance. … it is ancient learning that one who assumes to act, even though gratuitously, may thereby become subject to a duty of acting carefully, if he acts at all.”