Florida's Good Samaritan Law and Emergency Rooms
Florida’s Good Samaritan Law
Florida’s medical malpractice laws are complex, sometimes hospital and doctor friendly, and often make it difficult for victims to recover when doctors are negligent and cause injury. One example of this is the so called “ Good Samaritan Act,” passed in 2004. Among other things, this law reduces the level of care that emergency room personnel are required to give to patients admitted during an emergency. This kind of protection can act as a boon for hospitals, doctors, and nurses, but it can be bad news if you are the victim of a careless mistake when being treated in an emergency room.
Hospitals Required to Provide Care in an Emergency
There are several state and federal laws that require hospital emergency rooms to provide care to those seeking it. Federal law, found in 42 U.S.C. 1395dd, requires a hospital to screen anybody seeking emergency care and either provide enough medical care to stabilize the person, or transfer that person to a place that will stabilize them. A hospital must perform this minimum amount of care whether a person can pay or not. Florida statutes 395.1041, 395.401, and 401.45 put similar requirements on hospitals to treat people in an emergency, regardless of ability to pay. Much has been said about the positive and negative aspects of this law, but it does ensure that people in an emergency will be able to get medical attention when it is most needed.
Hospitals and Doctors Held to Lesser Standard
Traditionally, doctors are held to a negligence standard when providing care. Basically that means a doctor must provide the same kind of care that a reasonable doctor in similar circumstances would provide. This seems fair enough; it keeps a standard of care uniform, and allows victims of negligence a way to be compensated fairly and justly. But for those receiving emergency care under one of the federal or state laws listed above, that standard is lowered significantly.
Under Florida’s Good Samaritan Act, hospitals and doctors are given immunity from the negligence standard traditionally imposed. If you go to a hospital emergency room thanks to one of the federal or state laws talked about above, hospitals and doctors can be negligent, cause you harm, and not face any liability. In fact, they are only liable if you are injured and they showed a reckless disregard in how they treated you. The law itself says that to be liable the hospital or doctor’s conduct has to be substantially greater than negligent conduct. The consequences of such a law can be devastating to a victim injured by medical malpractice. It seems a cruel bit of irony that this blanket liability is part of a law called the “Good Samaritan Act.”
The original intent of the Good Samaritan Act was well intentioned. It was meant to protect people from being sued when they help others in emergency situations. So for example, if someone next to you stopped breathing you are not under an obligation to help them by performing CPR. But under a Good Samaritan law you would be free to do so without the fear of being sued if you make a mistake. This seems like a policy that promotes the public good by encouraging one another to come to the rescue if needed. Including hospitals and doctors in the same law when they are working as professionals as part of their everyday job may or may not be such a good policy.
Contact a Professional
As you can see, Florida medical malpractice laws are complicated. It takes a true professional with experience to navigate these laws and get the best result possible. If you have been injured in a hospital emergency room contact The Pittman Firm for help.