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Carter v. Reese: Good Samaritan Laws

In Carter v. Reese, a truck driver was pulling this semi tractor-trailer into a loading dock at a contractor’s location.  He was supposed to drop off his empty trailer and pick up a new trailer.  He had attached the new trailer to his truck and was then trying to jump onto the loading dock so he could close the door on the trailer.  He could not do this until he pulled the truck way from the loading dock, as the door was open and the trailer was flush to the distribution center.

wheelchair5When he was trying to get on the loading dock to close the trailer door, he slipped and his leg fell between the trailer and the loading dock.  He was not in any pain, according to his testimony, but he was trapped between the truck and the loading dock, and he began to bang on the trailer and yell for help.  It took about ten minutes for someone to hear him. When another worker came over to help him, plaintiff said to get in the truck and move it forward about a foot.  Plaintiff told the other worker that whatever he did, he should not put the truck in reverse.  This man had no idea how to drive a semi tractor-trailer with its 16-gear manual transmission. However, he did not tell the victim this and got in the truck after saying “no problem.”

After the “helper” got in the cab of the truck, it became apparent that he did not know what he was doing. The victim said he heard the engine on the truck rev three times before heard the hiss of the air brakes release and the truck rolled backwards and shattered his leg. It took five minutes for paramedics to arrive and someone who actually knew how to drive a truck was able to pull the vehicle forward and free the victim. The injuries were so severe that his leg had to be amputated.

Plaintiff and his wife sued the defendant.  However, they did not argue that he engaged in any willful or wanton conduct.  This was a pure negligence accident, as you would see with a typical Boston personal injury case.  The defendant pleaded an affirmative defense using Ohio’s Good Samaritan statute.  In that jurisdiction, any person, whether they are professional or not, who is at a scene of an accident and rendering assistance and is not engaging in willful or wanton misconduct, is immune from liability.  The court determined that this was an emergency and it was that he was acting wrongly.   The trial court allowed the use of the affirmative defense.

At this point plaintiff appealed, and the court of appeals held that he did not meet the requirements of the immunity statute, and it was never pled that he engaged in willful conduct.  Perhaps it could have been argued that it was wanton conduct to drive a truck when you don’t know how and was unlicensed, but they chose not to do so.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Carter v. Reese: Good Samaritan Laws, August 30, 2016, Ohio Supreme Court

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