Woman Sued for Rescue Effort in Car Crash

California high court rules Good Samaritans can be liable.

ByABC News
December 19, 2008, 4:09 PM

Dec. 19, 2008 — -- No good deed goes unpunished, or so goes the saying.

Such was the case with Lisa Torti, who is being sued for pulling a now-paralyzed friend from the wreckage of a Los Angeles car accident in 2004.

The victim's lawyers claim the Good Samaritan bumbled the rescue and caused injury by yanking her friend "like a rag doll" to safety.

But Torti -- now a 30-year-old interior designer from Las Vegas -- said she thought she had seen smoke and feared the car would explode. She claims she was only trying to help her friend, Alexandra Van Horn, and her own life has been adversely affected by the incident.

"I know [Van Horn] has a lot of financial issues and her life has changed," she said. "But it's not my fault. I can't be angry at her, only the path she has chosen to take. I can only pray it helps her."

"I don't have any more fight left," Torti told ABCNews.com, choking back tears. "It's really emotional."

The California Supreme Court ruled this week that Van Horn may sue Torti for allegedly causing her friend's paralysis. The case -- the first of its kind -- challenges the state's liability shield law that protects people who give emergency assistance.

The court ruled 4-3 that only those administering medical care have legal immunity, but not those like Torti, who merely take rescue action. The justices said that the perceived danger to Van Horn in the wrecked car was not "medical."

The court majority said the 1980 Emergency Medical Service Act, which Torti's lawyers cited for protection, was intended only to encourage people to learn first aid and use it in emergencies, not to give Good Samaritans blanket immunity when they act negligently.

Van Horn's lawsuit will go on to trial court to determine if Torti is to blame for Van Horn's paralysis.

But some legal experts say the ruling may discourage people from trying to save lives.

"What they are saying is that if you pull someone out of a pool, if you provide CPR, you do have a defense," said Torti's lawyer, Jody Steinberg.

"It seems to defy logic," he said. "At a certain point anyone who instructs or educates [in emergencies] will advise that you must hesitate. Those split-second decisions will be gone and someone could die."