Good Samaritan laws nationwide provide civil immunity for an individual who renders aid to an injured person. Generally, these statutes grant immunity to a person whose assistance or omission is not grossly negligent and who provides such service without a fee. Although courts could apply this immunity to a physician rendering emergency care within a hospital, they often refuse to do so.
A. Ramirez v. McIntyre
On April 23, 1998, Debra Ramirez arrived at a Texas hospital to have labor induced, but Ramirez's physician was not present when her labor progressed rapidly and the baby's head began to crown. It was then that Dr. Douglas McIntyre answered a "Dr. Stork" page that a delivery was in progress without a physician, and that a physician was needed immediately.
The infant's shoulder was lodged against the mother's pelvic bone, and Dr. McIntyre finally delivered the baby's distressed arm, allowing Ramirez to deliver baby Colby. As a result of the delivery, the nerves in Colby's shoulder and neck were injured leaving him with permanent neurological impairment, and Ramirez sued.
The Texas Good Samaritan statute gives immunity from civil damages to a person who administers emergency care unless his or her act is willfully or wantonly negligent. Thus, a person administering emergency care to another who is afforded Good Samaritan protection is shielded from liability for ordinary negligence, but remains liable for reckless misconduct. However, the Texas law also states that a Good Samaritan defense does not apply to care rendered by a person who would ordinarily receive or be entitled to receive a salary, fee or other remuneration even if the person waives remuneration.
All parties agreed that Dr. McIntyre administered emergency care in good faith and did not act with wanton negligence. Although Dr. McIntyre did not submit a bill for the delivery, Ramirez contended that, since the physician could have billed her, the physician was not covered by the Good Samaritan defense.
In a 2-1 decision, the Texas Appeals Court, in Ramirez v. McIntyre, acknowledged that Dr. McIntyre did not receive or expect to receive payment from Ramirez. However, the court also concluded that Dr. McIntyre's evidence was insufficient to establish that he was not legally entitled to compensation. His only evidence in this regard was his own statement that "...there is nothing about the provision in my opinion, the provision of emergency services such as I rendered in this case that would allow me to render a bill for my services."
The court did not rule that Dr. McIntyre was excluded from the Good Samaritan protection, only that he failed to prove that he was entitled to such protection on the facts of this case. Accordingly, the court reversed the lower court's judgment, and sent the case back to be retried.
The dissenting judge wrote that the majority misconstrued the Texas Good Samaritan statute, and that Dr. McIntyre should have been afforded Good Samaritan protection. The judge believed that Dr. McIntyre's testimony was clear that he did not charge Ms. Ramirez for his emergency care, nor did he expect to be paid for his services.
Just because Dr. McIntyre was capable of looking up Ramirez' address and sending her a bill, did not mean that he expected remuneration. The judge believed that the legislature did not intend that physicians pass a "possible remuneration test" before the Good Samaritan protections could be applied.
Arguing that the majority's interpretation of the law guts the Good Samaritan law for physicians, Dr. McIntyre has appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, and he has been joined by several individual physician groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs.
B. Maryland Law
Maryland's Good Samaritan law imparts civil immunity to those individuals whose acts or omissions are not grossly negligent and who provide assistance in an emergency medical situation without fee or other compensation. Thus, a physician who provides emergency care in Maryland outside a hospital setting may be entitled to immunity from civil liability.
However, in Maryland, as was the case in Texas, a physician providing emergency care in a hospital setting may not be able to obtain such immunity. Although different courts may base their decisions on different theories, many courts may conclude that patients expect a bill when a doctor renders emergency service in a hospital, and, therefore, doctors who respond to emergencies in a hospital may not be shielded by a state's Good Samaritan law.