Resuscitation attempt not grounds for being sued 

click to enlarge In this May 17, 2008 file photo, Jessica Kocian practices a first aid response for CPR during a first aid/CPR/AED class at the Red Cross in Chicago. - STACIE FREUDENBERG/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Stacie Freudenberg/AP file photo
  • In this May 17, 2008 file photo, Jessica Kocian practices a first aid response for CPR during a first aid/CPR/AED class at the Red Cross in Chicago.

This week's question comes from Kate H. from the East Bay, who asks:

Q: "I recently found a co-worker slumped over in his chair, not breathing. I started CPR and continued until the EMTs arrived and took over. He never regained a pulse or breath, I was told that he had been gone for some time before I found him. Can I be sued for having tried to help him?"

A: Kate, you were not only brave, you obviously are a good soul who didn't think about liability when you were called upon to help, you thought only of your co-worker and I applaud you. I have performed CPR two times in my life. My record is 1-1.

The simple answer to your question is no. California Civil Code Section 1412.2 specifically addresses liability for anyone performing CPR in good faith. It states: "In order to encourage citizens to participate in emergency medical services training programs and to render emergency medical services to fellow citizens, no person who has completed a basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation course which complies with the standards adopted by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiac care, and who, in good faith, renders emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene of an emergency, shall be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by such person rendering the emergency care. This section shall not be construed to grant immunity from civil damages to any person whose conduct in rendering such emergency care constitutes gross negligence."

Likewise, organizations that provide training for CPR are immune under Section 1412.2 are immune. "In order to encourage local agencies and other organizations to train citizens in cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, no local agency, entity of state or local government, or other public or private organization which sponsors, authorizes, supports, finances, or supervises the training of citizens in cardiopulmonary resuscitation shall be liable for any civil damages alleged to result from such training programs. Likewise, no person who is certified to instruct in cardiopulmonary resuscitation by either the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross shall be liable for any civil damages alleged to result from the acts or omissions of an individual who received instruction on cardiopulmonary resuscitation by that certified instructor. If, however, there is a financial relationship for this care, such as a physician providing medical care, other than for free, there may be liability."

There is an exception to the immunity as follows. Section 1412.2 "shall not be construed to grant immunity from civil damages to any person who renders such emergency care to an individual with the expectation of receiving compensation from the individual for providing the emergency care."

An opinion letter from a past California Attorney general, which given great weight in statutory interpretation of the law, was published in 1980 addressing the issue of whether an individual who ceases CPR with a good faith belief that further action is futile is immune from making that decision and ceasing CPR. That opinion states: "We note that there is no liability for civil damages where a rescuer terminates CPR unless such termination caused the victim's death or injury. Next we apply the good faith standard since there is no exemption from civil liability for one whose conduct is not rendered in good faith under any of California's Good Samaritan statutes. There is no civil liability under this test if the rescuer terminates CPR in the good faith belief that his efforts are no longer effective toward the revival of the victim. If he honestly believes that further CPR effort is useless the good faith test is met."

The opinion goes on to provide guidance on what is considered good faith vs. gross negligence.

"Good faith requires ascertaining the person's state of mind which provides a subjective test. It is what the person actually knows, thinks and believes that is the test of liability. Gross negligence has been said to mean the want of slight care or diligence or the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct. In either case the conduct is judged by an objective standard, that of the reasonably prudent [person] under similar circumstances." Thank you for being a good, caring citizen and caring for your co-worker. If anyone tries to sue you, contact me and I will help you, as a trial lawyer, for free.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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