Good Samaritans, Be Wary?
A few months ago, I was walking through the Costco parking lot when I saw an elderly and somewhat frail couple trying to load two gigantic bags of pet food into the back of their car. They were clearly having trouble, so I headed over and helped them out. What’s remarkable about this is their utter surprise that anyone would give them a hand. They were almost suspicious of my help, like I was either going to ask for payment or rob them when I was done. And I found that to be really, really sad.
Now I’ve never pulled anyone out of a wrecked car, but when I read a story about the California Supreme Court allowing good Samaritans to be sued, it reminded me of this incident and others like it–times when I went out of my way to lend a helping hand to a complete stranger.
Another time, when my husband and I were at a gas station there was this woman who was clearly flummoxed at the lack of a full-service pump. Maybe she was from Oregon, where you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. She actually seemed pretty disoriented in general, so who knows what the deal was. In any case, she gave me her credit card and I swiped it for her then my husband pumped her gas and we all went on our merry way.
When I mentioned this to someone at work, they were shocked that we would do that. The woman could have screamed “THIEF!” when I took her credit card. My husband could have put the wrong kind of gas in her tank and her engine would be ruined. We could have been arrested, or worse–sued.
Being sued for doing something nice for someone else? Sounds ridiculous to me. But the case that resulted in the court decision that people can be sued for their charitable actions was one in which a woman pulled a crash victim from a car “like a rag doll,” allegedly aggravating a vertebrae injury. Apparently the Good Samaritan law only protects those providing medical care. Everyone else is fair game. This would-be Good Samaritan thought the car was going to ignite, or possibly explode, and she did what she thought she needed to do. I’d like to think that anyone else would have done the same.
I feel sorry for the crash victim, sure, and I also feel sorry for the woman who just thought she was helping. But mostly I feel sorry for a society in which people are encouraged to stand idly by while someone is in danger. Is that really what we’ve come to?