Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 45 Cal. 4th 322, 197 P.3d 164, 86 Cal. Rptr. 3d 350

Van Horn v. Watson

Filed 12/18/08

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

ALEXANDRA VAN HORN,
Plaintiff and Appellant,
S152360
v.
Ct.App. 2/3 B188076
ANTHONY GLEN WATSON et al.,
Los Angeles County
Super. Ct. No. 034945
Defendants and Respondents; )

)
ANTHONY GLEN WATSON,
Cross-complainant
and
Appellant,
v.
Ct.App. 2/3 B189254
LISA TORTI,
Los Angeles County
Super. Ct. No. 034945
Cross-defendant
and
Respondent.

Under well-established common law principles, a person has no duty to
come to the aid of another. (Artiglio v. Corning, Inc. (1998) 18 Cal.4th 604, 613;
Williams v. State of California (1983) 34 Cal.3d 18, 23.) If, however, a person
elects to come to someone’s aid, he or she has a duty to exercise due care.
1

(Williams, supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 23.) Thus, a “good Samaritan” who attempts to
help someone might be liable if he or she does not exercise due care and ends up
causing harm. (Ibid.) The Legislature has enacted certain statutory exceptions to
this due care requirement. One such statute, Health and Safety Code section
1799.102, immunizes any “person who . . . renders emergency care at the scene of
an emergency . . . ” from liability for civil damages.1
In this case, defendant Lisa Torti removed plaintiff Alexandra Van Horn
from a vehicle involved in an accident and, by so doing, allegedly caused Van
Horn to become paralyzed. In the resultant suit for negligence, Torti argued that
she had provided “emergency care at the scene of an emergency” and was immune
under section 1799.102. The trial court agreed and granted her motion for
summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal reversed. We granted review to
determine the scope of section 1799.102. We hold that the Legislature intended
for section 1799.102 to immunize from liability for civil damages any person who
renders emergency medical care. Torti does not contend that she rendered
emergency medical care and she may not, therefore, claim the immunity in section
1799.102. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
I. BACKGROUND
During the evening of October 31, 2004, plaintiff, Torti, and Jonelle Freed
were relaxing at Torti’s home where plaintiff and Torti both smoked some
marijuana.2 After defendants Anthony Glen Watson and Dion Ofoegbu arrived,

1
All further unlabeled statutory references are to the Health and Safety
Code.
2
The factual and procedural history is largely taken from the Court of
Appeal’s opinion.
2

they all went to a bar at around 10:00 p.m., where they consumed several drinks.
They remained at the bar until about 1:30 a.m., at which point they left.
Plaintiff and Freed rode in a vehicle driven by Watson; Torti rode in a
vehicle driven by Ofoegbu. Watson lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a
curb and light pole at about 45 miles per hour, knocking a light pole over and
causing the vehicle’s front air bags to deploy. Plaintiff was in the front passenger
seat. When Watson’s vehicle crashed, Ofoegbu pulled off to the side of the road
and he and Torti got out to help. Torti removed plaintiff from Watson’s vehicle.
Watson was able to exit his vehicle by himself and Ofoegbu assisted Freed by
opening a door for her.
There are conflicting recollections about several critical events: Torti
testified at deposition that she saw smoke and liquid coming from Watson’s
vehicle, and she removed plaintiff from the vehicle because she feared the vehicle
would catch fire or “blow up.” Torti also testified that she removed plaintiff from
the vehicle by placing one arm under plaintiff’s legs and the other behind
plaintiff’s back to lift her out. Others testified, on the other hand, that there was
no smoke or any other indications that the vehicle might explode and that Torti put
plaintiff down immediately next to the car. Plaintiff testified that Torti pulled her
from the vehicle by grabbing her by the arm and yanking her out “like a rag doll.”
Emergency personnel arrived moments later and plaintiff and Freed were
treated and transported to the hospital. Plaintiff suffered various injuries,
including injury to her vertebrae and a lacerated liver that required surgery, and
was permanently paralyzed.
Plaintiff sued Watson, Ofoegbu, and Torti. Plaintiff asserted a negligence
cause of action against Torti, alleging that even though plaintiff was not in need of
3

assistance from Torti after the accident and had only sustained injury to her
vertebrae, Torti dragged plaintiff out of the vehicle, causing permanent damage to
her spinal cord and rendering her a paraplegic. Torti and Watson cross-
complained against each other for declaratory relief and indemnity. After some
discovery, Torti moved for summary judgment, arguing that she was immune
under section 1799.102. The trial court granted Torti’s motion.3
The Court of Appeal reversed. It held that the Legislature intended for
section 1799.102 to apply only to the rendering of emergency medical care at the
scene of a medical emergency and that Torti did not, as a matter of law, render
such care.4 Such a construction, the Court of Appeal explained, is consistent with
the statutory scheme of which section 1799.102 is a part. We granted review.
II. DISCUSSION
Our primary duty when interpreting a statute is to “ ‘determine and
effectuate’ ” the Legislature’s intent.5 (Lennane v. Franchise Tax Board (1994) 9
Cal.4th 263, 268.) To that end, our first task is to examine the words of the
statute, giving them a commonsense meaning. (People v. Nguyen (2000) 22
Cal.4th 872, 878.) If the language is clear and unambiguous, the inquiry ends.

3
Although Torti’s motion addressed only plaintiff’s complaint, Torti and
Watson stipulated that the trial court’s order had a res judicata and/or collateral
estoppel effect on their cross-complaints against each other. Plaintiff and Watson
both appealed, and their appeals were consolidated.
4
As previously noted, Torti does not contend that her actions at the scene of
the automobile accident constituted medical care. Although we hold that section
1799.102 applies only to the rendering of emergency medical care, we express no
opinion as to what constitutes such care.
5
We conduct a de novo review of the Court of Appeal’s statutory
construction of section 1799.102. (Barner v. Leeds (2000) 24 Cal.4th 676, 683.)
4

(Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 1103.)
However, a statute’s language must be construed in context, and provisions
relating to the same subject matter must be harmonized to the extent possible.
(Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379,
1387.) With these principles of statutory construction in mind, we turn to the
language of the provision.
Section 1799.102 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 scene of an
emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where
medical care is usually offered.” The parties identify two possible constructions
of this provision: Torti urges us to conclude that it broadly applies to both
nonmedical and medical care rendered at the scene of any emergency; plaintiff, on
the other hand, argues that section 1799.102 applies only to the rendering of
emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency. While section
1799.102 is certainly susceptible of Torti’s plain language interpretation, a
“[l]iteral construction should not prevail if it is contrary to the legislative intent
apparent in the statute. The intent prevails over the letter, and the letter will, if
possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act.” (Lungren v.
Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735.) We conclude for several reasons that,
when the statutory language is viewed in context, the narrower construction
identified by plaintiff is more consistent with the statutory scheme of which
section 1799.102 is a part.
5

A. The Statutory Scheme and Related Provisions
1. Purpose of the Scheme in Which Section 1799.102 Is Located
Section 1799.102 is located in division 2.5 of the Health and Safety Code.
That division, titled “Emergency Medical Services” by the Legislature, was
enacted as the Emergency Medical Services System and the Prehospital
Emergency Medical Care Personnel Act (Act). (§ 1797; Stats. 1980, ch. 1260,
§ 7, p. 4261.) One can infer from the location of section 1799.102 in the
Emergency Medical Services division, as well as from the title of the act of which
it is a part, that the Legislature intended for section 1799.102 to immunize the
provision of emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.
(People v. Hull (1991) 1 Cal.4th 266, 272.)6
Additionally, apart from the name of the division and the Act, the
Legislature made clear in numerous other statutes that it intended for the statutory
scheme to address the provision of emergency medical care. For example, in
section 1797.1, the Legislature declared that it is the intent of the Act “to provide
the state with a statewide system for emergency medical services . . . .” (Italics
added.) In section 1797.6, subdivision (a), the Legislature declared that it is “the
policy of the State of California to ensure the provision of effective and efficient

6
The Court of Appeal reasonably concluded that “[a] general immunity
statute would more likely be found in the Civil Code . . . .” Torti disagrees, noting
that “the seminal Good Samaritan statute lies in [ ] Business [and] Professions
Code [section 2395].” However, that provision applies to licensed physicians and,
as such, its placement in the Business and Professions Code is unsurprising. On
the other hand, one would not expect a statute broadly immunizing from liability
any person who renders any type of care at the scene of any emergency to be
located in the Health and Safety Code, let alone division 2.5, the Emergency
Medical Services division of that code.
6

emergency medical care.” (Italics added.) Indeed, nowhere in the Act’s general
provisions (Health & Saf. Code, div. 2.5, ch. 1, §§ 1797-1797.8) is there any
indication that the Legislature intended to address or affect the provision of
nonmedical care.
Section 1797.5 is even more illuminating. That statute explains that “It is
the intent of the Legislature to promote the development, accessibility, and
provision of emergency medical services to the people of the State of California.
[¶] Further, it is the policy of the State of California that people shall be
encouraged and trained to assist others at the scene of a medical emergency.
Local governments, agencies, and other organizations shall be encouraged to offer
training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and lifesaving first aid techniques so
that people may be adequately trained, prepared, and encouraged to assist others
immediately.” (Italics added.) Section 1797.5 thus establishes that the Legislature
intended to encourage people to learn and provide emergency medical care (such
as the cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid specifically identified in section
1797.5) to those in need. The Act’s stated purpose supports construing section
1799.102 to immunize only those who render such emergency medical care at the
scene of a medical emergency.
Construing section 1799.102 to apply only to the rendering of emergency
medical care is also in keeping with adjoining section 1799.100 (there is no
section 1799.101), another immunity provision. Section 1799.100 provides: “In
order to encourage local agencies and other organizations to train people in
emergency medical services, 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 people, or certifies those people . . . shall be
7

liable for any civil damages alleged to result from those training programs.” Read
together, sections 1799.100 and 1799.102 first immunize those who train persons
in emergency medical care and then immunize the persons who actually render
such care. The strong inference to be drawn is that the Legislature intended for
both statutes to apply to emergency medical care. (Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair
Employment & Housing Com., supra, 43 Cal.3d at p. 1387 [explaining that courts
should harmonize statutes related to the same subject].)
2. Definition of “Emergency” in Section 1797.70
Chapter 2 of division 2.5, Emergency Medical Services, contains
definitions which govern the provisions of the division. (§ 1797.50; see
§§ 1797.52-1797.97.) Of particular relevance is section 1797.70, which defines
“emergency” as meaning “a condition or situation in which an individual has a
need for immediate medical attention, or where the potential for such need is
perceived by emergency personnel or a public safety agency.” (Italics added.)
Section 1799.102, the provision at issue here, immunizes persons who render
“emergency care at the scene of an emergency . . . .” (Italics added.) Section
1797.70 thus makes clear that the phrase “scene of an emergency” in section
1799.102 refers to the scene of a medical emergency.7

7
At oral argument, counsel for Watson and Van Horn suggested that there
was a factual dispute over whether Van Horn was at the “scene of an emergency.”
We disagree. The Court of Appeal concluded that Van Horn, “having been
injured in a car accident, required immediate medical attention,” and nowhere in
their briefing did counsel take issue with the court’s conclusion. Nor, in their
oppositions to Torti’s motion for summary judgment, did counsel identify any
factual disputes about whether Van Horn needed immediate medical attention.
8

Although the phrase “emergency care” is not separately defined, section
1797.70’s definition of “emergency” certainly supports the conclusion that the
Legislature intended for “emergency care” to be construed as meaning emergency
medical care. After all, if the “scene of an emergency” (§ 1799.102) means a
scene where “an individual has a need for immediate medical attention”
(§ 1797.70, italics added), it logically follows that the Legislature intended for the
phrase “emergency care” in section 1799.102 to refer to the medical attention
given to the individual who needs it.
This construction also comports with the second sentence of section
1799.102, which reads: “The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency
departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.” While this
sentence does not directly shed light on the intended meaning of the phrase
“emergency care” in the previous sentence of section 1799.102, the fact that the
Legislature excluded “emergency departments and other places where medical
care is usually offered” from section 1799.102’s immunity supports construing
“emergency care” as meaning emergency medical care — the exclusion suggests
that “emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually
offered” are locations where the Legislature did not need (or want) to encourage
ordinary citizens to provide emergency medical care because trained medical
personnel are available to better render such care.
3. Definition of “Emergency Services” in Section 1799.107
Section 1799.107 encourages public entities and emergency rescue
personnel to render emergency assistance by providing that “a qualified immunity
from liability shall be provided for public entities and emergency rescue personnel
providing emergency services.” (Id., subd. (a).) The Legislature defined the
9

phrase “emergency services” in subdivision (e) of the provision, stating that “[f]or
purposes of this section, ‘emergency services’ includes, but is not limited to, first
aid and medical services, rescue procedures and transportation, or other related
activities necessary to insure the health or safety of a person in imminent peril.”
(Italics added.) Section 1799.107 thus explicitly immunizes from liability
emergency rescue personnel who render medical and/or nonmedical care.
While the Legislature broadly defined the phrase “emergency services” in
section 1799.107, subdivision (e), it explicitly limited the definition’s application
to that provision. This implies for a number of reasons that the Legislature
intended for “emergency services” in section 1799.107 to be construed more
broadly than “emergency care” in section 1799.102. First, it would make little
sense for the Legislature to explicitly limit the application of section 1799.107’s
broad definition if it intended for section 1799.102 to be read in similarly
expansive terms. Second, the Legislature demonstrated in section 1799.107 that it
understands how to broadly define a term when it so desires — and its decision
not to define “emergency care” in section 1799.102 in like fashion strongly
implies it did not intend for the phrase to be so construed.8 Third, if the
Legislature understood the phrase “emergency care” to self-evidently include both
medical and nonmedical care, as Torti suggests, there would have been little need

8
That the Legislature would have wanted to provide a broader immunity in
section 1799.107 than in section 1799.102 is unsurprising — the former provision
immunizes trained emergency rescue personnel while the latter applies to any
person.
10

to explicitly define an analogous term (“emergency services”) in section 1799.107
to include both types of care.9
Accordingly, we conclude that, when construed in context and harmonized
with related provisions relating to the same subject matter, section 1799.102
immunizes only those persons who render emergency medical care.
B. Additional Reasons to Prefer a Narrower Interpretation
We briefly address three additional reasons to prefer plaintiff’s narrower
construction of section 1799.102 to the broader one urged by Torti.
1. Legislative History of Section 1799.102 Supports the Narrower
Interpretation of the Provision
The legislative history of section 1799.102 and its predecessor, former
section 1767 (Stats. 1978, ch. 130, § 8, p. 345), supports the conclusion that the
Legislature intended to immunize the provision of emergency medical care at the
scene of medical emergencies.
Assembly Bill No. 1301 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) (Assembly Bill No. 1301)
, the legislation that added former section 1767, was intended to encourage citizen
involvement in providing emergency assistance, such as cardiopulmonary
resuscitation and first aid, to other citizens. (Assem. Com. on Health, Analysis of
Assembly Bill No. 1301 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) May 2, 1977, p. 2.) To that end,
as the Legislative Counsel’s Digest notes, the bill “add[ed] provisions giving . . .

9
Torti warns that construing “emergency care” in section 1799.102 to mean
only emergency medical care will circumscribe section 1799.107’s immunity. Her
concern is without basis. As she acknowledges, section 1799.107, subdivision (e)
defines “emergency services” for purposes of that statute; thus, our construction of
the phrase “emergency care” in section 1799.102 does not affect 1799.107 in any
way.
11

persons . . . who render emergency medical services, immunity from liability [for]
civil damages . . . .” (Legis. Counsel’s Dig., Assem. Bill No. 1301 (1977-1978
Reg. Sess.) 4 Stats. 1978, Summary Dig., p. 35, italics added.) One such
provision, former section 1767, provided that “In order to encourage people to
participate in emergency medical services training programs and to render
emergency medical services to others, no person who in good faith renders
emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages
resulting from any act or omission. . . .”10 (Stats. 1978, ch. 130, § 8, p. 345, italics
added.) This legislative history supports our conclusion — that section 1799.102
was only intended to apply to emergency medical care.
First, according to the Legislative Counsel’s digest, the Legislature’s
purpose in enacting the immunity provisions was to protect those “who render
emergency medical services . . . .”11 (Legis. Counsel’s Dig., Assem. Bill No.
1301 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) 4 Stats. 1978, Summary Dig., p. 35.) Second,
former section 1767 specifically provided that its purpose was to encourage people
to participate “in emergency medical services training programs” and to “render

10
The legislation enacting former section 1767, as originally proposed, would
have also immunized a person who “transports an injured person for emergency
medical treatment . . . .” (Assem. Bill No. 1301 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) as
introduced Mar. 31, 1977, p. 6.) The language was deleted (Assem. Bill No. 1301
(1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) as amended June 10, 1977, p. 6), implying the Legislature
decided against immunizing the type of assistance Torti says she provided,
namely, removing plaintiff from the vehicle so she could receive medical
treatment.
11
Although the Legislative Counsel’s summary digests are not binding (State
ex rel. Harris v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1220, 1233,
fn. 9), they are entitled to great weight. (California Assn. of Psychology Providers
v. Rank (1990) 51 Cal.3d 1, 17.)
12

emergency medical services to others . . . .” (Stats. 1978, ch. 130, § 8, p. 345.)
Thus, it seems beyond dispute that, in passing Assembly Bill No. 1301, the
Legislature intended for the term “emergency care” in former section 1767 to refer
to emergency medical care.
Legislative history suggests the term “emergency care” in section 1799.102
was intended to be interpreted in like fashion. The immunity set forth in section
1799.102 is essentially identical to the immunity in former section 1767, which
implies the Legislature intended an identical scope. Additionally, while former
section 1767’s prefatory language explaining the immunity’s purpose does not
appear in section 1799.102, its absence does not suggest the Legislature intended
to alter the immunity’s original purpose. The language was merely moved to the
previously discussed section 1797.5 (see ante, pp. 6-7). Thus, the legislative
history indicates that, as with former section 1767, the Legislature intended
section 1799.102 to apply only to those who render emergency medical care.12
2. Torti’s Broad Interpretation Would Undermine Well-established
Common Law Principles
Torti’s expansive interpretation of section 1799.102 would undermine
long-standing common law principles. As we previously noted, the general rule is
that “one has no duty to come to the aid of another.” (Williams v. State of
California, supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 23.) As explained in the Restatement Second of
Torts, “The origin of the rule lay in the early common law distinction between

12
Indeed, one would expect that, had the Legislature intended to alter the
scope of the immunity that previously existed in former section 1767, some
mention of its intent would have made it into the legislative history. The absence
of any such discussion suggests the Legislature did not so intend. (See Ailanto
Properties, Inc. v. City of Half Moon Bay (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 572, 589.)
13

action and inaction, or ‘misfeasance’ and ‘non-feasance.’ ” (Rest.2d Torts, § 314,
com. c, p. 116.) Courts were more concerned with affirmative acts of misbehavior
than they were with an individual “who merely did nothing, even though another
might suffer serious harm because of his omission to act.” (Ibid.)
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 . . . .” (Williams v. State of California, supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 23,
citing Rest.2d Torts, § 323.) As we explained in Artiglio v. Corning, “ ‘[i]t 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.’ (Glanzer v.
Shepard (1922) 233 N.Y. 236.)” (Artiglio v. Corning, supra, 18 Cal.4th at
p. 613.)
The broad construction urged by Torti — that section 1799.102 immunizes
any person who provides any emergency care at the scene of any emergency —
would largely gut this well-established common law rule. As we recently noted,
“ ‘[w]e do not presume that the Legislature intends, when it enacts a statute, to
overthrow long-established principles of law unless such intention is clearly
expressed or necessarily implied.’ ” (Brodie v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd.
(2007) 40 Cal.4th 1313, 1325.) Torti does not identify anything that would
overcome the presumption that the Legislature did not intend to work such a
radical departure.
3. Broad Interpretation Would Render Other “Good Samaritan”
Statutes Unnecessary Surplusage
As the Court of Appeal points out, Torti’s sweeping construction of section
1799.102 would render other “Good Samaritan” statutes superfluous. For
example, Government Code section 50086 immunizes anyone with first aid
14

training who is asked by authorities to assist in a search and rescue operation and
who renders emergency services to a victim. The statute defines “emergency
services” to include “first aid and medical services, rescue procedures, and
transportation or other related activities.” (Ibid.) It is difficult to see what conduct
Government Code section 50086 immunizes that would not already be protected
under section 1799.102 as it is interpreted by Torti. Any person providing
“emergency services” under Government Code section 50086 would, according to
Torti, also be rendering “emergency care” at the scene of an emergency under
section 1799.102, thereby Government Code section 50086 would be unnecessary.
Axioms of statutory interpretation counsel us to avoid such constructions.
(Englemann v. State Bd. of Educ. (1991) 2 Cal.App.4th 47, 56.)
Torti’s interpretation would similarly affect Harbors and Navigation Code
section 656, subdivision (b). That provision immunizes any person who provides
assistance “at the scene of a vessel collision, accident, or other casualty . . . .”
Immunity extends to “any act or omission in providing or arranging salvage,
towage, medical treatment, or other assistance.” (Ibid.) Torti’s broad construction
of the terms “emergency care” and “scene of an emergency” in section 1799.102
would appear to swallow Harbors and Navigations Code section 656, while a
narrower interpretation of section 1799.102 would avoid that problem.
15

III. DISPOSITION
In light of the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the Legislature intended
for section 1799.102 to immunize from liability for civil damages only those
persons who in good faith render emergency medical care at the scene of a
medical emergency. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
MORENO, J.

WE CONCUR: GEORGE, C. J.
KENNARD,
J.
WERDEGAR,
J.

16

CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION BY BAXTER, J.

Health and Safety Code section 1799.1021 states that “[n]o 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.” (Italics added.) Nothing in this clear statement limits or qualifies the
kind of emergency aid — medical or nonmedical — that an uncompensated lay
volunteer may provide without fear of legal reprisal from the person he or she
tried to help.
A statute’s plain language is a dispositive indicator of its meaning unless a
literal reading would lead to absurd consequences the Legislature did not intend.
(E.g., Miklosy v. Regents of University of California (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876, 888;
Metcalf v. County of San Joaquin (2008) 42 Cal.4th 1121, 1131; Coalition of
Concerned Communities, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2004) 34 Cal.4th 733, 737.)
The plain meaning of section 1799.102 does not produce absurd results; on the
contrary, it implements sound and logical public policy. The statute protects from
the threat of civil litigation a layperson who, acting as a Good Samaritan,

1
All further unlabeled statutory references are to the Health and Safety
Code.
1


reasonably perceived that another human being needed immediate emergency
assistance and intervened, despite possible personal risk and danger, to provide it.
The purpose, of course, is to encourage persons not to pass by those in need of
emergency help, but to show compassion and render the necessary aid. There is
no reason why one kind of lay volunteer aid should be immune, while another is
not.
Yet the majority imposes an arbitrary and unreasonable limitation on the
protection this statute affords to Good Samaritans. The majority rewrites section
1799.102 to insert the word “medical” at two crucial points where it does not
appear — once before the word “care” and again before the word “emergency.”
Thus, the majority concludes, the statute affords immunity only for emergency
medical care rendered by an uncompensated layperson at the scene of a medical
emergency.
Under the majority’s distorted statutory reading, an uncompensated lay
volunteer — whether or not trained in the rudiments of first aid — is immune for
any incompetent and injurious medical assistance he or she renders to a person in
need of medical treatment, but is fully exposed to civil liability for emergency
rescue or transportation efforts intended to prevent injury to an endangered victim
in the first instance, or to ensure that a victim in need of immediate medical
treatment can receive it.
Thus, in the majority’s view, a passerby who, at the risk of his or her own
life, saves someone about to perish in a burning building can be sued for incidental
injury caused in the rescue, but would be immune for harming the victim during
the administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation out on the sidewalk. A hiker
can be sued if, far from other help, he or she causes a broken bone while lifting a
2


fallen comrade up the face of a cliff to safety, but would be immune if, after
waiting for another member of the party to effect the rescue, he or she set the
broken bone incorrectly. One who dives into swirling waters to retrieve a
drowning swimmer can be sued for incidental injury he or she causes while
bringing the victim to shore, but is immune for harm he or she produces while
thereafter trying to revive the victim.
Here, the result is that defendant Torti has no immunity for her bravery in
pulling her injured friend from a crashed vehicle, even if she reasonably believed
it might be about to explode, though she would have been immune if, after waiting
for someone else to undertake the physical and legal risk of rescue, she then
caused harm by attempting to administer to the victim’s injuries at the roadside.
I cannot believe the Legislature intended results so illogical, and so at odds
with the clear statutory language. I therefore respectfully dissent from the
majority’s interpretation of section 1799.102.
In a grudging understatement, the majority admits section 1799.102 is
“certainly susceptible” to the “plain language” interpretation that all unpaid
volunteer emergency aid rendered in good faith at the scene of an emergency is
immune. (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 5.) Yet the majority raises numerous objections
against this construction, even though it conforms both to the statutory language
and to sound reason. None of the majority’s arguments is persuasive.
First, the majority points to the location of section 1799.102 in a statutory
division (division 2.5) of the Health and Safety Code, entitled the Emergency
Medical Services System and the Prehospital Emergency Medical Care Personnel
Act (§ 1797 et seq.; hereafter Act), that is primarily devoted to emergency medical
services. This indicates, the majority concludes, that by using the term
3


“emergency care” in section 1799.102, the Legislature meant only to immunize
emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.
However, it is well established that “ ‘[t]itle or chapter headings are
unofficial and do not alter the explicit scope, meaning, or intent of a statute.’ ”
(Wasatch Property Management v. Degrate (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1111, 1119.) The
Health and Safety Code itself contains an express codification of this principle.
(§ 6 [“Division, part, chapter, article, and section headings do not in any manner
affect the scope, meaning, or intent of the provisions of this code.”].)
Indeed, contrary to the conclusion the majority seeks to draw, the very fact
that the statutes in this division refer so frequently and specifically to “emergency
medical services” (see, e.g., §§ 1797.1, 1797.5, 1797.72, 1798.175, 1799.100,
1799.106, 1799.110, 1799.111)2 and “emergency medical care” (e.g.,
§§ 1797.274, 1799.110) (all italics added) suggests that omission of the word
“medical” in the immunity provision at issue here was not inadvertent, but
purposeful.
This omission makes eminent sense in context. While most of division 2.5
is concerned in detail with the organized provision of emergency medical services
by public agencies, and by entities and individuals trained, certified, and employed
in that particular field, section 1799.102 has both a broader and a narrower reach.
It applies to uncompensated “emergency care” provided “at the scene of an
emergency” by any “person,” regardless of the individual’s training in either

2
Section 1797.72 defines “ ‘emergency medical services,’ ” for purposes of
division 2.5 of the Health and Safety Code, to mean “the services utilized in
responding to a medical emergency.” (Italics added.) As the majority indicates,
the Act does not define the distinct term “emergency care.”
4


emergency medical care or nonmedical emergency rescue procedures. (Ibid.) In
this context, there is no reason to distinguish between medical and nonmedical
assistance provided by the volunteer as the basis for immunity.
Moreover, despite its title, division 2.5, by its express terms, is not only
concerned with the provision of emergency care of a strictly medical nature. As
an apt case in point, section 1799.107 provides a qualified immunity from civil
liability to public agencies and “emergency rescue personnel” for acts undertaken
by such personnel, “within the scope of their employment to provide emergency
services.” (Id., subd. (b), italics added.) Such “ ‘emergency services’ ” are
defined to encompass acts in addition to the provision of emergency medical
treatment, expressly including, “but . . . not limited to . . . rescue procedures and
transportation, or other related activities necessary to insure the health or safety of
a person in imminent peril.” (Id., subd. (e), italics added.)
The majority suggests, however, that by making section 1799.107’s broad
definition of “emergency services” — which clearly includes both medical and
nonmedical emergency aid — applicable “[f]or purposes of this section” (id.,
subd. (e)), the Legislature signaled its intent that a strictly medical definition of
“emergency care” should apply elsewhere in the statutory scheme. Such is not the
case.
The legislative history of section 1799.107 indicates a much narrower
purpose, one not at all inconsistent with the plain meaning of section 1799.102.
As originally adopted in 1980 (Stats. 1980, ch. 1260, § 7, p. 4261 et seq.), the Act
included section 1799.102 in its current form, but did not include section
1799.107. As to emergency personnel in particular, the only statutory tort
immunities at that time were contained in Government Code section 850.4, which
5


immunized public employees and entities for injury (other than motor vehicle
injury) caused while fighting fires, or by the condition of fire protection equipment
or facilities, and in Health and Safety Code section 1799.106 (part of the Act),
which then, as now, provided a qualified immunity to law enforcement officers,
firefighters, and certain certified emergency medical technicians for “emergency
medical services” provided “at the scene of an emergency.” (Italics added.)
Thereafter, a Court of Appeal decision held that Government Code section
850.4 provided an immunity only for firefighting activities, and thus did not
immunize firefighters who had rescued a camper pinned under a fallen tree.
(Lewis v. Mendocino Fire Protection Dist. (1983) 142 Cal.App.3d 345, 346-347.)
In response, the Legislature adopted section 1799.107 (Stats. 1984, ch. 275, § 1,
pp. 1462-1463), specifying that all “emergency rescue personnel,” including
firefighters, have a qualified immunity for both first aid and medical service at the
scene of an emergency and all other emergency rescue and transportation
activities necessary to ensure the well-being of an endangered person.
Legislative history documents make clear that section 1799.107’s purpose
was simply to countermand the holding of Lewis. (See, e.g., Sen. Com. on
Judiciary, analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1120 (1983-1984 Reg. Sess.) as amended July
1, 1983, pp. 2-3; Assem. Com. on Judiciary, analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1120 (1983-
1984 Reg. Sess.) as amended Aug. 16, 1983, p. 1.) There is no indication of any
legislative intent to imply that “emergency care,” as used in section 1799.102,
conferred immunity on uncompensated lay volunteers for a narrower range of
6


emergency aid at the scene of an emergency. As indicated above, there would be
no logical reason to do so.3
The majority stresses that a major purpose of the Act is to maximize the
public availability of training in emergency medical services, and to encourage
laypersons to obtain such training so they can assist others at the scene of a
medical emergency. (§§ 1797.5, 1799.100.) This general policy suggests, in the
majority’s view, that the Legislature sought only to immunize such emergency
medical assistance.
But the declared immunity is for “emergency care,” not “emergency
medical care,” and it simply is not linked to the emergency assister’s completion
of emergency medical training. The immunity applies regardless of whether the
uncompensated layperson rendering assistance has been trained in emergency first
aid. Thus, there is no basis to infer that the Legislature intended a quid pro quo —
a limited immunity in return for the person’s completion of a specified kind of
training program.

3
The majority posits that it was logical for the Legislature to immunize a
broader range of emergency aid in section 1799.107 than in section 1799.102,
because the former statute governs trained emergency service personnel, while the
latter applies to any person. But any suggestion that the Legislature intended
greater immunity for trained personnel is belied by the fact that section 1799.102
offers absolute immunity for “good faith” “emergency care” rendered by any
“person” at an emergency scene, while section 1799.107 — similarly to several
other immunity statutes covering trained emergency personnel — affords only a
qualified immunity that does not extend to acts, medical or nonmedical, performed
by emergency service personnel “in bad faith or a grossly negligent manner.” (Id.,
subd. (b); see also discussion, post.)
7


Indeed, any direct connection that previously existed in the legislative
scheme among emergency medical training, emergency medical assistance, and
the immunity for “emergency care” has been severed. As the majority notes,
former section 1767, the predecessor of section 1799.102, specifically provided
that “[i]n order to encourage people to participate in emergency medical services
training programs and to render emergency medical services to others, no person
who in good faith render[ed] emergency care at the scene of an emergency” would
be civilly liable for such actions undertaken in good faith. (Former § 1767, as
added by Stats. 1978, ch. 130, § 8, p. 345.)
But as the majority must also acknowledge, the Legislature omitted the
introductory “[i]n order to” phrase from section 1799.102, as adopted in 1980.
The the current immunity provision, unlike its predecessor, contains no language
suggesting that the narrow purpose of the immunity is to encourage public
participation in emergency medical service training, or to render emergency aid
that is specifically medical in nature.4
The inference thus arises that no such link is now intended. We are left
with the logic that medical or nonmedical emergency aid may be the priority need
in a particular emergency situation. Activities of a nonmedical nature may be
essential in order to save a victim from injuries that would require medical

4
The majority suggests the language that appeared in former section 1767,
but was deleted from section 1799.107, was simply “moved” to section 1797.5.
(Maj. opn., ante, at p. 13.) To be sure, section 1797.5 states a legislative intent to
encourage the training of persons “to assist others at the scene of a medical
emergency.” What is critical, however, is that this policy is no longer stated as the
purpose of the immunity granted in section 1799.102 to any “person” who renders
“emergency care at the scene of an emergency.”
8


attention, or to place an injured victim in a position where medical care can be
administered. All such actions thus deserve equal encouragement, and there is no
reason to believe the Legislature thought otherwise when it adopted section
1799.102. If actual training in emergency medical services is not a prerequisite of
immunity for uncompensated laypersons who provide emergency aid — and
section 1799.102 makes clear that it is not — then there is no reason to construe
the clear and unqualified immunity for “emergency care” to refer only to
emergency medical care.
Next, the majority suggests that, for purposes of section 1799.102, the
“scene of an emergency” at which the statutory immunity applies has a special and
limited meaning. The majority points to the definitional portion of the Act, which
includes a section, far removed from section 1799.102, defining an “emergency”
as “a condition or situation in which an individual has a need for immediate
medical attention, or where the potential for such need is perceived by emergency
medical personnel or a public safety agency.” (§ 1797.70.)
But the Act makes clear that its definitions apply only “[u]nless the context
otherwise requires.” (§ 1797.50.) That exception must apply here, for the
definition set forth in section 1797.70 makes little sense in the context of section
1799.102.
Section 1797.70’s definition of “emergency” well suits those portions of
the Act dealing with trained emergency medical personnel and the emergency
medical services they furnish. However, if applied literally to section 1799.102,
this definition would greatly undermine the incentive for uncompensated
laypersons, as first responders, to proffer even emergency medical assistance. By
its terms, section 1799.102 purports to encourage any “person,” acting in “good
9


faith,” to provide necessary emergency help, and it does not require that the
volunteer possess any particular training or expertise. Yet, under section
1797.70’s definition of “emergency,” section 1799.102 would afford immunity to
a good faith lay volunteer only if his or her untrained perception of a need for
immediate medical attention proved, in hindsight, to be correct, or if the volunteer
waited for public agency representatives or emergency medical personnel to arrive
and perceive such a need.
This cannot be what section 1799.102 intended. It seems more sensible to
infer that, in section 1799.102, “emergency” has its normal, commonsense
meaning as a sudden occurrence or unexpected situation that demands immediate
action. (See, e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dict. (11th ed. 2004) p. 407,
col. 1; Webster’s 3d New Internat. Dict. (2002 ed.) p. 741, col.2; 5 Oxford English
Dict. (2d ed. 1989) p. 176, col. 1; American Heritage Dict. (2d collelge ed. 1985)
p. 448, col. 2.)
The majority notes that section 1799.102, which immunizes “emergency
care at the scene of an emergency,” does itself refer to “medical care” at one point,
when it provides that “[t]he scene of an emergency shall not include emergency
departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.” From this,
the majority infers that “emergency care” and “medical care” are equivalent terms
within the section, and that the “scene of an emergency” means the scene of a
medical emergency other than an emergency medical care facility.
Again, however, the inference is not persuasive. Section 1799.102’s
obvious and logical purpose is to encourage volunteers, even if untrained, to
render whatever immediate aid appears necessary at an emergency scene where no
other help may be available. Consistent with that aim, the Legislature may well
10


have seen no need to immunize a lay volunteer for emergency aid of any kind
given at a place devoted to the provision of emergency medical care. An
emergency occurring at such a location is most likely to be medical. Personnel
trained to respond to such an emergency are readily at hand, and any response is
best left to them. Indeed, the facility’s staff is likely to be better trained and
equipped than a lay volunteer to handle even the nonmedical aspects of an
emergency occurring at such a scene.
The majority asserts that if section 1799.102 were construed to provide
immunity for both medical and nonmedical emergency care, the statute would
render several other immunity provisions superfluous. But a close examination of
the statutes the majority cites does not support this conclusion. Section 1799.107
affords “public entit[ies]” and “emergency rescue personnel” a qualified immunity
when they provide “emergency services” (id., subd. (b)), but the immunity does
not apply when their actions were performed with gross negligence (ibid.). Thus,
emergency rescue personnel, unlike the unpaid volunteers protected by section
1799.102, are held to minimal standards of care in keeping with their training and
their compensated professional status.
The immunity in Government Code section 50086, also cited by the
majority, extends beyond the scene of an emergency when the person immunized
has first aid training and was asked to participate in a search and rescue operation.
Similarly, the immunity provided by Harbors and Navigation Code section 656,
subdivision (b) applies to the peculiar dangers of boating and marine navigation,
but it is not strictly confined to “emergency” situations.
Finally, the majority insists we should not lightly imply a broad exception
to the common law rule that one who voluntarily comes to the aid of another is
11


liable for his or her negligence in doing so. I do not find this premise a persuasive
reason for ignoring the plain language of section 1799.102.
At the outset, I dispute the majority’s suggestion that an interpretation of
section 1799.102 to include both medical and nonmedical “emergency care at the
scene of an emergency” would “largely gut” the common law rule. (Maj. opn.,
ante, at p. 14.) The rule applies, of course, in every case where one person decides
to come to the aid of another, while section 1799.102 applies only to emergency
aid at an emergency scene. Further, I submit, the emergency to which the statute
applies must be one that would be perceived as such by a reasonable person who
confronts the circumstances.
In such extreme situations, where prompt aid by a first responder may be
the difference between life and death, the Legislature has every reason to be
concerned that the harshness of the common law rule would discourage citizens
from providing necessary emergency assistance to their neighbors. Thus, the
Legislature could well conclude that it should immunize persons willing, under
such stressful and potentially dangerous circumstances, to provide, without
compensation, any form of help that might serve to alleviate the emergency.
As I have indicated, the majority’s interpretation creates a less rational
exception to the common law rule, because it would immunize lay volunteers only
for the very kinds of help — i.e., medical assistance in medical emergencies —
that most clearly require special training and expertise such persons are unlikely to
possess. I am not convinced the Legislature had such an aim, contrary to the plain
language it used in section 1799.102.
I therefore conclude that this statute protects from civil liability any person
who, without compensation, renders emergency assistance of any kind during a
12


situation he or she reasonably perceives to be an emergency. Accordingly,
I believe, defendant Torti could not be denied summary judgment under section
1799.102 simply for the reason that any emergency assistance she rendered to
plaintiff Van Horn at the scene of the accident was not “medical” in nature.
On the other hand, I am not persuaded that defendant Torti has satisfied all
the prerequisites for immunity under section 1799.102. The statute requires that
the assistance must have been given “at the scene of an emergency.” (Ibid.)
Counsel for plaintiffs suggested at oral argument that there were factual disputes
raising questions about whether defendant Torti actually and reasonably believed
there was an “emergency” situation that required her to extricate plaintiff Van
Horn from the accident vehicle before qualified emergency rescue personnel
arrived at the scene to undertake that task. I agree with this assessment.
As the majority recounts, “Torti testified at deposition that she saw smoke
and liquid coming from [the] vehicle, and she removed plaintiff [Van Horn] from
the vehicle because she feared [it] would catch fire or ‘blow up.’ . . . Others
testified, on the other hand, that there was no smoke or any other indications that
the vehicle might explode and that Torti put [Van Horn] down immediately next to
the car.” (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 3.) These ambiguities raise, in my view, triable
issues whether Torti rendered, or actually and reasonably believed she was
rendering, “emergency care at the scene of an emergency.” (§ 1799.102, italics
added.)
13


Accordingly, I conclude, defendant Torti was not entitled to summary
judgment under the auspices of section 1799.102.5 On that basis, I, like the
majority, would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
BAXTER, J.
WE CONCUR:

CHIN, J.
CORRIGAN, J.

5
The majority asserts there are no triable issues against Torti as to whether
she acted at “the scene of an emergency,” because there is no dispute that Van
Horn, having been injured in the accident, was in immediate need of medical
attention. This conclusion, however, flows from the majority’s erroneous premise
that “the scene of an emergency,” for purposes of section 1799.102, is any
situation, but only a situation, in which someone has the need for immediate
medical help. If, as I believe, the purpose of section 1799.102 is to immunize
generally a good faith “emergency” response to an “emergency” situation, then
“the scene of an emergency” must be construed as a situation calling for the
particular kind of emergency response that was provided.
14


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.
Name of Opinion Van Horn v. Watson __________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted XXX 148 Cal.App.4th 1013
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No. S152360
Date Filed: December 18, 2008
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court: Superior
County: Los Angeles
Judge: Howard J. Schwab

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:
Law Offices of Hutchinson & Snider and Robert B. Hutchinson for Plaintiff and Appellant.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:
Crandall, Wade & Lowe, Edwin B. Brown; McNeil, Tropp & Braun, McNeil, Tropp, Braun & Kennedy,
Jeffrey I. Braun and Frank Cracchiolo for Defendants and Respondents and for Cross-complainant and
Appellant.
Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, Ronald D. Kent, Sekret T. Sneed; Hanger, Levine & Steinberg, Jody
Steinberg and Lisa Mead for Cross-defendant and Respondent.

David K. Park; Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Rita M. Haeusler, George A. Davidson, Carla A. Kerr and Scott
H. Christensen for Boy Scouts of America as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Cross-defendant and
Respondent.

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):
Robert B. Hutchinson
Law Offices of Robert B. Hutchinson
9454 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 907
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 276-1460

Edwin B. Brown
Crandall, Wade & Lowe
7700 Irvine Center Drive, Suite 700
Irvine, CA 92618-2929
(949) 753-1000

Ronald D. Kent
Sonenschein Nath & Rosenthal
601 South Figueroa Street, Suite 2500
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 623-9300

Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in a civil action. This case presents the following issue: Does the immunity provided by Health and Safety Code section 1799.102 for any person who "renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency" apply to a person who removed someone from a wrecked car because she feared it would burst into flames?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:
Thu, 12/18/200845 Cal. 4th 322, 197 P.3d 164, 86 Cal. Rptr. 3d 350S152360Review - Civil Appealclosed; remittitur issued

Parties
1Torti, Lisa (Defendant and Respondent)
Represented by Ronald D. Kent
Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, LLP
601 S. Figueroa Street, Suite 2500
Los Angeles, CA

2Torti, Lisa (Defendant and Respondent)
Represented by Lisa Ann Mead
Hanger Levine & Steinberg
21031 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 800
Woodland Hills, CA

3Torti, Lisa (Defendant and Respondent)
Represented by Sekret Tamara Sneed
Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, LLP
601 S. Figueroa Street, Suite 2500
Los Angeles, CA

4Torti, Lisa (Defendant and Respondent)
Represented by Jody Steinberg
Hanger Levine & Steinberg
21031 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 800
Woodland Hills, CA

5Van Horn, Alexandra (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Robert B. Hutchinson
Hutchinson & Snider
9454 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 907
Beverly Hills, CA

6Watson, Anthony Glen (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by Jeff Itzhak Braun
McNeil Tropp & Braun, LLP
611 Anton Boulevard, Suite 1050
Costa Mesa, CA

7Watson, Anthony Glen (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by Edwin B. Brown
Crandall, Wade & Lowe
7700 Irvine Center Drive, Suite 700
Irvine, CA

8Boys Scouts Of America (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Rita Maria Haeusler
Hughes Hubbard & Reed
350 S. Grand Avenue, 36th Floor
Los Angeles, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Carlos R. Moreno
ConcurJustice Marvin R. Baxter

Disposition
Dec 18 2008Opinion: Affirmed

Dockets
Apr 30 2007Petition for review filed
  Lisa Torti, defendant and respondent Ronald D. Kent, counsel
Apr 30 2007Request for judicial notice received (pre-grant)
  from counsel for defdt/rspt Lisa Torti
May 4 2007Record requested
 
May 8 2007Received Court of Appeal record
 
May 10 2007Change of contact information filed for:
  Attorneys Ronald D. Kent and Sekret T. Sneed for Respondent Lisa Torti
May 17 2007Request for depublication (petition for review pending)
  counsel for respondent
May 18 2007Answer to petition for review filed
  Appellant Alexandra Van Horn Attorney Robert B. Hutchinson
May 18 2007Answer to petition for review filed
  Appellant Anthony Glen Watson Attorney Edwin B. Brown
May 24 2007Opposition filed
  counsel for appellant to depub. request.
May 29 2007Reply to answer to petition filed
  Respondent Lisa Torti.
Jun 13 2007Petition for review granted (civil case)
  The request for judicial notice is granted. The Petition for Review is granted. George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, & Corrigan, JJ.
Jun 19 2007Request for extension of time filed
  counsel for respondent Lisa Torti's requests extension of time to 8-13-07 to file the opening brief/merits.
Jun 22 2007Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the opening brief on the merits is extended to and including August 13, 2007.
Jun 28 2007Certification of interested entities or persons filed
  counsel for Hutchinson & Snider
Jun 28 2007Certification of interested entities or persons filed
  Respondent Lisa Torti Attorneys Ronald D. Kent, etal
Aug 13 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
  Lisa Torti, Respondent
Aug 13 2007Request for judicial notice filed (granted case)
  Lisa Torti, Respondent [submitted concurrent with brief on the merits.]
Aug 23 2007Request for extension of time filed
  Counsel for aplt. requests extension of time to 10-15-2007 to file the answer brief on the merits.
Aug 28 2007Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including October 15, 2007.
Oct 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
  Appellant Anthony Glen Watson
Oct 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
  respondent Alexandra Van Horn attorney Robert B. Hutchinson
Oct 15 2007Request for judicial notice filed (granted case)
  respondent Alexandra Van Horn attorney Robert B. Hutchinson
Oct 24 2007Request for extension of time filed
  to file reply brief/merits to 12-05-2007 respondent Lisa Torti
Nov 5 2007Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the reply brief on the merits is extended to and including December 5, 2007.
Dec 5 2007Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  Respondent Lisa Torti
Jan 4 2008Received application to file Amicus Curiae Brief
  Boys Scouts of America in support of deft. and resp. (Lisa Torti)
Jan 10 2008Permission to file amicus curiae brief granted
  Boy Scouts of America in support of respondent.
Jan 10 2008Amicus curiae brief filed
  The application of Boy Scouts of America for permission to file an amicus curiae brief in support of respondent is hereby granted. An answer thereto may be served and filed by any party within 20 days of the filing of the brief.
Jan 29 2008Response to amicus curiae brief filed
  Respondent Alexandra Van Horn To AC of Boy Scouts of America
Jan 30 2008Response to amicus curiae brief filed
  Appellant Anthony Glen Watson To AC of The Boy Scouts of America
Feb 28 20082nd record request
  remaining records *** Overnite Mail ***
Mar 3 2008Received Court of Appeal record
 
Aug 20 2008Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued Tuesday, October 7, 2008, at 1:30 p.m., in Riverside County
Sep 3 2008Filed:
  Letter requesting to divide oral argument time, filed by Robert B. Hutchinson, counsel for respondent Van Horn, asking to share 15 minutes with appellant Watson.
Sep 3 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Filed
  The California Channel by James Gualtieri
Sep 4 2008Filed:
  Letter from Robert B. Hutchinson, counsel for respondent Van Horn, clarifying request to divide oral argument time equally (15 minutes each) with appellant Watson.
Sep 5 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Granted
  The request for media coverage, filed by the California Channel on September 2, 2008, is granted, subject to the conditions set forth in rule 1.150, of the California Rules of Court.
Sep 9 2008Order filed
  The request of counsel for respondent Van Horn in the above-referenced cause to allow two counsel to argue on behalf of respondent at oral argument is hereby granted. The request of respondent Van Horn to allocate to appellant Watson 15 minutes of respondent's 30-minute allotted time for oral argument is granted.
Sep 11 2008Request for judicial notice granted
  Defendant Lisa Torti's request for judicial notice, filed on August 13, 2007, is granted. Plaintiff's request for judicial notice, filed on October 15, 2007, is granted.
Oct 1 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Filed
  The Desert Sun Mike Snyder, photographer
Oct 1 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Filed
  Cali. State Univ. San Bernandino-Palm Desert Campus Mike Singer, photographer
Oct 3 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Granted
  The request for extended media coverage of the Supreme Court's Oral Argument Special Session on October 7, and 8, 2008, filed by the California State University, San Bernardino-Palm Desert Campus photographer on September, 26, 2008, is granted, subject to the conditions set forth in rule 1.150, California Rules of Court.
Oct 3 2008Request for Extended Media coverage Granted
  The request for extended media coverage of the Supreme Court's Oral Argument Special Session on October 7 and 8, 2008, filed on October 1, 2008, by The Desert Sun to serve as pool photographer is granted, subject to the conditions set forth in rule 1.150,California Rules of court.
Oct 7 2008Cause argued and submitted
 
Dec 17 2008Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
 
Dec 18 2008Opinion filed: Judgment affirmed in full
  OPINION BY: Moreno, J. --- joined by: George, C.J., Kennard, and Werdegar, JJ. CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION BY: Baxter, J. --- joined by: Chin, J., Corrigan, J.
Dec 31 2008Rehearing petition filed
  counsel for resp. (Lisa Torti)
Jan 7 2009Answer to rehearing petition filed
  respondent Alexandra Van Horn
Jan 7 2009Time extended to consider modification or rehearing
  The time for granting or denying rehearing in the above-entitled case is hereby extended to and including March 18, 2009, or the date upon which rehearing is either granted or denied, whichever occurs first.
Jan 8 2009Answer to rehearing petition filed
  Appellant Anthony Glen Watson
Feb 11 2009Rehearing denied
  Baxter, Chin, and Corrigan, JJ., are of the opinion the petition should be granted.
Feb 11 2009Remittitur issued (civil case)
 
Feb 20 2009Received:
  from CA 2/3 receipt for remittitur.

Briefs
Aug 13 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
 
Oct 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
 
Oct 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
 
Dec 5 2007Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
 
Jan 10 2008Amicus curiae brief filed
 
Jan 29 2008Response to amicus curiae brief filed
 
Jan 30 2008Response to amicus curiae brief filed
 
Brief Downloads
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Reply Brief.pdf (713952 bytes)
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Amicus Curiae Brief.pdf (799146 bytes)
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Response to Amicus Brief 1.pdf (343725 bytes)
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If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
May 16, 2011
Annotated by Jennifer Sheldon-Sherman

OPINION BY: Moreno, J.

Facts:

On the evening of October 31, 2001, plaintiff, Alexandra Van Horn, was the front-seat passenger in a serious motor vehicle accident. Defendant, Lisa Torti, who was driving behind Ms. Van Horn and witnessed the accident, immediately stopped her car and removed Ms. Van Horn from the crashed vehicle.

Accounts vary as to the car’s condition and the way Ms. Torti removed Ms. Van Horn from the vehicle. Ms. Torti maintained that she observed smoke and liquid emanating from the vehicle and that she removed Ms. Van Horn, by placing one arm under her legs and the other under her back, because she feared the vehicle would catch fire or blow up. Other witnesses stated that the car emitted no smoke, liquid, or other sign that it would catch fire or blow up. These same witnesses also testified that Ms. Torti removed Ms. Van Horn by grabbing her by the arm and yanking her out of the car “like a rag doll.”

When emergency crews arrived, Ms. Van Horn was transported to the hospital where she suffered injuries including vertebrae damage, a lacerated liver, and permanent paralysis.

Ms. Van Horn subsequently sued Ms. Torti asserting a negligence cause of action and alleging that Ms. Torti’s removal of her body from the crashed vehicle caused permanent paralysis. Ms. Van Horn maintained that had she been left in the vehicle she would have suffered only vertebrae injury. Ms. Torti immediately moved for summary judgment arguing that she was immune from prosecution under California Health and Safety Code Section 1799.102 for providing “emergency care at the scene of an emergency.”

Procedural History:

Ms. Torti moved for summary judgment from Ms. Van Horn’s claim of negligence arguing that she was immune from prosecution under California Health and Safety Code Section 1799.102. The trial court granted summary judgment for Ms. Torti on the ground that she was entitled to statutory immunity from liability. Ms. Van Horn and a co-defendant appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed holding that the Legislature intended for Section 1799.102 to apply only to the rendering of emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency.

Issue:

Does Section 1799.102’s immunity for emergency care rendered at the scene of an emergency apply only to the rendering of emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency?

Holding:

Yes; Section 1799.102’s immunity for emergency care rendered at the scene of an emergency applies only to medical care rendered at the scene of a medical emergency.

Reasoning:

Section 1799.102 of the California statute 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 scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.”

The parties identified two possible constructions of this provision. The first is a broad construction immunizing individuals who provide both medical and non-medical care rendered at the scene of an emergency. The second is a more narrow construction, immunizing only individuals who provide medical care and only those who do so at the scene of a medical emergency.

Here, the plain language construction of the statute could give rise to the first construction of the statute. Still, a literal construction of the statute does not prevail if it is contrary to the legislative scheme and intent of the statute.

(1) The purpose of the scheme in which Section 1799.102 is located is to encourage and promote emergency medical care. Section 1799.102 is located in division of the California Health and Safety Code entitled “Emergency Medical Services,” and was enacted as part of the larger Emergency Medical Services System and Prehospital Emergency Medical Care Personnel Act. The location of Section 1799.102 thus evidences the Legislature’s intent to immunize the provision of emergency medical care only. In addition, in other provisions of the Act, the Legislature made clear that the statutory scheme was intended to provide the state with a statewide system for emergency medical services. There is no indication anywhere in the Act that it was intended to address non-medical care. Finally, the Act’s other immunity section, Section 1799.100, provides for civil immunity for local agencies who train people in emergency medical services. All of these indicators taken together are evidence that the Section 1799.102 applies only to medical services.

(2) The language of the Act in which Section 1799.102 is located indicates that the Legislature intended Section 1799.102 to immunize individuals only in emergency medical situations. Section 1797.70 defines “emergency” as “a condition or situation in which an individual has a need for immediate medical attention, or where the potential for such need is perceived by emergency personnel or a public safety agency.” Section 1799.102 immunizes individuals who render “emergency care at the scene of an emergency.” Read in conjunction, it is clear that the phrase “scene of an emergency” in Section 1799.102 refers to the scene of a medical emergency. In addition, Section 1799.107 provides qualified immunity for public entities and rescue personnel providing “emergency services” defined as the provision of both medical and non-medical care. However, the Legislature specifically limited the application of that definition to Section 1799.107. This is evidence 1) that the Legislature did not believe that the term “emergency services” self-evidently includes non-medical services; 2) that the Legislature knows how to broadly define a term when it so chooses; and 3) that explicitly limiting the inclusion of non-medical care to only one section precludes courts from reading other definitions to include non-medical services when not so defined.

(3) Finally, there are three reasons to prefer a narrower construction of the statute. First, the legislative history of the statue supports the conclusion that the Legislature intended to immunize only the provision of medical care. Multiple comments during the Act’s hearings refer to immunizing those who perform emergency medical services or medical services training. Second, an expansive reading of Section 1799.102 would undermine well-established common law principles that a person who comes to the aid of another has a duty to exercise due care in performing their assistance. Immunization from liability for any person who performs any emergency care at the sight of any emergency would significantly undercut this rule. Finally, a broad interpretation of Section 1799.102 would make other “Good Samaritan” statutes that immunize non-medical acts unnecessary.

Thus, the Legislature intended, and it is logical for, Section 1799.102 to immunize a person from liability for civil damages only when the person renders medical care at the scene of a medical emergency. In this case, Ms. Torti does not contend that she rendered medical care, and accordingly she is not immunized from liability under Section 1799.102.

Ruling:

Affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

Concurrence and Dissent (Baxter, J.)

Nothing in the clear language of Section 1799.102 limits or qualifies the type of emergency care an individual may provide in order to be immunized from liability. The plain language of the statute is dispositive on its meaning unless a literal reading would lead to absurd consequences that the Legislature did not intend. Here, the plain meaning does not produce absurd results. Rather, the statute protects from civil litigation one who provides emergency assistance to another in need. The purpose is to encourage people to help those in need, not to ignore them. There is no reason why these “Good Samaritans” should not be immunized. Moreover, the legislative history and statutory structure is not dispositive on the issue. Accordingly, Ms. Torti cannot be denied summary judgment simply because the care she provided was not medical in nature.

However, Ms. Torti has not shown that her assistance was “given at the scene of an emergency”—a requirement for immunity under Section 1799.102. There is a factual dispute about whether Ms. Torti actually believed there was an emergency situation requiring her to remove Ms. Van Horn from the car. Thus, Ms. Torti was not entitled to summary judgment and, in agreement with the majority, the judgment of the Court of Appeals should be affirmed.

Aftermath: The Legislature Amends the Good Samaritans Law

Only one week after the Court’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan statute at issue in Van Horn v. Watson, the California State Assembly introduced a bill to reverse the effects of the ruling in future cases. California AB-83 sought to add a provision to the Health and Safety Code to provide immunity from civil liability for any person who provides medical or non-medical care at the scene of an emergency. The bill also included an exception from coverage for anyone who acted with “gross negligence” or “willful or wanton misconduct.” In August 2010 the bill was passed into law.

Cases Citing Van Horn:

Heritage Residential Care, Inc. v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, 192 Cal. App. 4th 75 (2011).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6810665890205162436&q=Herita...

Kelly v. CB & I Constructors, Inc., 179 Cal. App. 4th 442 (2009).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9166763515379243387&q=Kelly+...

Mexia v. Rinker Boat Co., Inc., 174 Cal. App. 4th 1297 (2009).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3362957874643043255&q=Mexia+...

Unlimited Adjusting Group, Inc. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 174 Cal. App. 4th 883 (2009).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10070504297348504391&q=Unlim...

Wang v. Asset Acceptance, LLC, 681 F. Supp. 2d 1143 (N.D. Cal. 2010).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1584529157393424483&q=Wang+v...

SEARCH TAGS:

emergency care, emergency scene, immunity, civil immunization, duty of care, negligence, Good Samaritan, non-medical, medical care, statutory immunity, good faith, layperson, accident

Annotation by Jennifer A.L. Sheldon-Sherman